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7/28/2010
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Intel Demos 50Gbps Silicon Photonics Laser Link

Optical fibers can transmit data inside computers faster and over greater distances than current copper wire technology.

Intel on Tuesday announced it has developed a prototype high-speed optical data link, which is integrated onto silicon. The Silicon Photonics Link supports transfers of up to 50 gigabits of data per second, a speed Intel compared to transmitting an entire HD movie every second.

Because copper wires experience signal degradation when transmitting data, they are restricted in the maximum strength they can produce, the company said. That limits computer designs, and means components such as memory and processors have to be placed close together. Thin optical fibers can replace those connections and transfer far more data over greater distances, "radically changing the way computers of the future are designed and altering the way the data center of tomorrow is architected," Intel said. While lasers are already used to transmit information in telecommunications and other applications, current technologies are too expensive and bulky for use in PC applications, the firm said.

"This achievement of the world's first 50Gbps silicon photonics link with integrated hybrid silicon lasers marks a significant achievement in our long term vision of 'siliconizing' photonics and bringing high-bandwidth, low-cost optical communications in and around future PCs, servers, and consumer devices," said Justin Rattner, chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs, in a statement.

The Silicon Photonics link was demonstrated during a conference in Monterey, Calif.

The 50Gbps Silicon Photonics Link prototype is composed of a silicon transmitter and receiver chip. Four lasers make up the transmitter chip, and their light beams encode data from within an optical modulator at 12.5Gbps. Once the four beams are combined, they become a single optical fiber for a total data rate of 50Gbps, Intel said. A receiver chip at the other end of the link separates the four optical beams and directs them into photo detectors that convert data back into electrical signals, according to Intel.

Low-cost manufacturing approaches, similar to those used in the semiconductor industry, are used to assemble both chips, the firm said.

Intel hopes to integrate Silicon Photonics into applications to reduce costs and reach data rates in the tera-scale -- fast enough to transfer a copy of everything on a typical laptop in one second, the company said.

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