Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pushing Optics Closer to the CPU

There's something very important I forgot to tell you! Don't cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
—Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) on crossing proton streams, Ghostbusters

Well.... as we learned later in the movie, crossing streams is not always a bad thing.... As part of my work with the National Center for Optics and Photonics Education (OP-TEC: www.op-tec.org) I've been spending a lot of time learning new technical content while still staying current in the computing and communications field. I've been reading (and tweeting) recently about pushing optics closer and closer to the processor in computing systems. Here's more.

Last week, IBM announced the integration of a silicon photonic chip on the same package as a CPU. Why is this important? A couple of reasons -  if on-chip and chip-to-chip communications can use silicon as an optical medium, processing will be significantly faster, consume much less power and produce much less heat than the copper wires used today.

Extreme Tech published a nice diagram (below and based on the IBM announcement) last week showing the current state of silicon photonics technology. Notice the optical connection is currently at the board edge. With this IBM breakthrough, designers will begin to start moving the silicon photonics array closer and closer to the CPU, eventually building the optics into the CPU package itself.

The technology will initially be limited to the world of supercomputing but it will only be a matter of time before we see it trickle down to consumer level devices like PC's, tablets and smartphones. 

I love it when streams converge.

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