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Lasers May Replace Wires To Speed Up Data Transfer

In 2006, researchers working for Intel and the University of California have found a way to build relatively cheap microchips constructed using lasers instead of wires. The chips are able to transfer data at much higher speeds than copper wires we're familiar with.

A close look at any microprocessor will reveal millions of tiny wires going in all directions to connect the active elements. Below the surface there can be more than five times as many wires. Following how computers have shot up in processing power in recent decades, certain components and materials are becoming increasingly redundant as they struggle to handle the demands that are made of them.

How does all of this fit in with the storage? Well, we could see this technology being incorporated in future memristor components such as RAM. RAM has always been an incredibly quick method of storage, and by replacing the wires in it we will see even faster loading times and boot processes.

With laptops and smartphones becoming a larger part of our lives, power consumption has become increasingly important. A seemingly simple way to get rid of voltage entirely has is to replace electrons with light. The latest research performed by a group of Japanese scientists demonstrates that light-powered interconnections may not be so far away.

Why is this a valuable step? When trying to ascertain how much power a chip will consume you need to look at how far the signal has to travel. Once the wire is long enough, it becomes apparent that it would be more efficient to transcode the electronic signal into an optical one and transmit photons instead of electrons. When communications between multiple chips is taken into account the use of light has an even greater appeal due to the higher bandwidth it provides.

So why don't we have them yet? One reason is currently silicon. There is a highly technical explanation as to why this is but to sum it up simply, it is just not a very good optical material. However, in an edition of nature published last year answers to the many problems silicon creates were given.

Back to the stats anyway. A Ge laser can transmit bits and bytes 100 times faster than electricity moving through wires, meaning the critical connections in the chip won't bottleneck the chip any longer. Bottlenecking has always been an issue in computing and always will be. One advancement here is held back by the limited from another advancement there. The leading compenent switches between the CPU, RAM, GPU or hard drive.

Optoelectronics is very much considered a holy grail of computing. The energy saving potential coupled with the speed enhancement could be phenomenal, especially in the age of information.

It should be noted then, that experts predict that these chips could be arriving as soon as 2015. Soon, we will be using up to 64 core processors, particularly in servers, and internal wires will be what is holding them back. With technology developing increasingly exponentially fast, it is breakthroughs like this that enable the innovations of tomorrow.


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