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Intel Claims 50-Gbit/s Laser Link Is a Breakthrough

Intel said Tuesday that it had developed a 50-Gbits/s optical interconnect prototype that could be used as an ultrafast optical data connection in a few years.

Intel's 50-Gbits/s prototype chip

Built on a technology known as silicon photonics, the link has the potential to scale to up to a terabit per second, enough to transfer the contents of a laptop in less than a second or the entire Library of Congress in less than two minutes, according to Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technical officer.

Intel hopes to have the silicon photonics technology broadly deployed by the middle of the decade, Intel executives said.
Rattner spoke extravagantly about the new device, stating that it was a fundamental breakthrough. He described a scenario where a user grabbed a few seasons worth of HD-encoded TV video as he was walking out the door to a vacation. “I don’t think I’m overstating it…the range of potential markets rivals the potential at the invention of the transistor,” Rattner said. “It’s only limited by our imagination, is the way I would put it.”
The technology will not be integrated into CPUs, at least at first. Instead, it will be used as an optical data link between devices.
Both chips can be manufactured using silicon components, the backbone of today’s low-power electronics, executives said. Intel now is now trying to take the prototype and work to develop a manufacturing and packaging process around it. The goal? A cost of a dollar per optical port, Rattner said. Executives said they also don’t see any “showstoppers” in its way.
“Once we’re confident that we have a high-volume manufacturing process in our hands, then we’ll turn to the business perspective: what markets are attractive to Intel, what markets do we need partners to satisfy,” Rattner added.
The new silicon photonics link was shown off at the Integrated Photonics Research conference in Monterey, Calif. According to Mario Paniccia, the director of Intel’s photonics lab, the device has already run for 27 hours with absolutely no errors, enough to transfer a petabit of information.

“Photonics gives us the ability to move data across the room, or across the planet, at incredibly high speeds, and in a cost-effective manner,” Rattner added. Intel has been working on the photonics technology for the past several years, Paniccia added.
Electrons moving over copper wires are nearing their physical limits, Rattner said. As a result, the distance of the trace wires used in circuits have grown shorter and shorter to maximize performance. Optical fibers lack many of these constraints, and Rattner said that many signals can be combined, or multiplexed, over a single fiber cable.
The transceiver consists of a transmitter and a receiver chip, separated by a short length of optical cable. The transmitter encodes four lasers with data rates of 12.5-Gbits/s each, which are then multiplexed together across the connection. At the other end, the receiver identifies the beam with photo detectors, distinguishes each optical beam and separates them into their component streams.
Intel could easily add more lasers and run them at higher data rates, Paniccia added, which would allow Intel to “scale out” and “scale up” to faster speeds. The terabit-per-second example assumes 25 lasers running at 40 gigabits/s each, he 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,” Rattner said in a statement.
Intel said that its efforts were different from its “Light Peak” technology, which also uses a short length of optical cable combined with a transceiver at each end. In Light Peak’s case, however, the technology is designed to “bring a multi-protocol 10Gbps optical connection to Intel client platforms for nearer-term applications,” Intel said. In the case of the 10-Gbit/s transceiver, Intel said, the goal was to bring it to “an even broader set of high-volume applications”.
Light Peak will be finalized this year, and brought to market in 2011, Paniccia said. “Optical as a technology is coming, and it’s coming very fast,” he said, comparing it to wireless before Wi-Fi and 3G technologies became mainstream.
Intel’s announcement comes about 50 years after the introduction of the laser, Rattner noted. The laser was patented by Bell Labs in 1960.

Originally published by PCmag. Read the original story here