For a few months now, those of a technical bent have been getting hot under the collar about a fibre optic-based Intel technology called Light Peak, which promises to revolutionise the speeds at which computers can transfer data. With speeds of up to 10Gbps it promises to replace USB, DisplayPort and HDMI in one swoop.
However, another optical technology promises to blow Light-Peak out of the water before it even arrives, by offering speeds of up to 50Gbps – and it’s once again from Intel.
These incredibly fast transfer speeds are based on a technology called Silicon Photonics, and has been created using what Intel calls Hybrid Silicon Laser technology - which sounds like a geek’s sci-fi wet dream come true.
Intel’s marketing people describe Silicon Photonics as capable of transmitting a high-definition movie in a second, though it didn’t specify the resolution or bit-rate of the movie - or indeed who was starring in it.
The idea behind Silicon Photonics is to use light beams to replace electrons to shuffle data around, as copper based wiring is reaching a bottleneck in terms of both the amount of data it is able to transfer and the distances it can transfer it over.
The 50G Silicon Photonics Link, as it’s snappily called at the moment, uses lasers rather than copper wires. It takes advantages of Intel’s breakthroughs in combining optical technology with silicon, melding the high speed data transfer capabilities of optics with the low cost, high volume manufacturing processes of silicon.
The link consists of four hybrid silicon lasers, beaming between two silicon chips, a transmitter and a receiver. There are four optical channels, each running at 12.5Gbps, creating the 50Gbps headline speed – which is five times faster than Light-Peak. The lasers are essentially part of the silicon wafer, eliminating the need for a separate optical module, as in Light-Peak.
"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" Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs said.
However, it’s not stopping there and Intel said that by modulating the speed and the number of channels it plans to scale up to 1Tbps transfer speed. Terascale computing – transferred in a second.
Intel still plans on bringing Light-Peak to market as early as next year but implied that it would do so for mainstream platforms, while the 50G Silicon Photonics link, would be three to five years away and would be reserved for high-end enterprise use.
Link: Intel blog