Researchers develop ultra-fast light-based microprocessor

By Shawn Knight
Dec 23, 2015
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  1. Researchers have for the first time successfully demonstrated a microprocessor that uses optical connections instead of traditional electrical wires to transmit data.

    Technology Review reports that researchers from MIT, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado Boulder developed a prototype chip featuring more than 70 million transistors and 850 optical components.

    The chip is linked to memory via optical fibers, transmitters and receivers, the publication notes, which enables incredibly fast data transfers. The prototype was able to transfer data at a rate of 300 gigabits per second. According to the researchers, that's anywhere from 10 to 50 times faster than a traditional electrical wire-based processor.

    It's not just the raw speed that's impressive. Chen Sun, a researcher from the University of California, Berkeley, estimates that as much as 30 percent of energy used in data center servers is spent transferring data between processor, memory and networking cards. In an environment like that, optical-based processors could save huge amounts of energy which in turn would significantly reduce operating costs.

    The researchers commissioned GlobalFoundries to manufacture the prototypes. Despite the fact that the fab is an older generation, it's still a significant achievement, says Shayan Mookherjea, an electrical engineer at the University of California, San Diego. Moving to a newer fab, however, will take additional work.

    Image courtesy Glenn J. Asakawa, University of Colorado

    Permalink to story.

  2. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,112   +1,377

    I believe that bringing this technology into the wide market is an order of magnitude simpler than the quantum computing, and way more realistic. Looking forward to further progress with this.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2015
    SirChocula and Evernessince like this.
  3. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 1,102   +532

    Not to mention, computers would largely be resistant to EMI if they converted to using light. Would be great for vital infrastructure that need to withstand domestic terrorism.
    VitalyT likes this.
  4. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,112   +1,377

    Agreed. My only concern is the moment it becomes a threat to Intel, they will try to purchase it, and once they do, that'll be the end of it, or at least for another decade, till electro-transistors have been milked dry.
    Evernessince and Lionvibez like this.
  5. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Guru Posts: 820   +246

    Imagine this in a mobile platform.... One day we might get workstation performance from an iphone :)
  6. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,112   +1,377

    Such thing doesn't require imagination. Today's mobiles carry more power than workstations from just 10 years ago.
  7. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Guru Posts: 820   +246

    I don't want you to imagine PAST performance... I want you to imagine an iPhone (or any other smartphone) running as fast as a CURRENT desktop/workstation.... imagine not needing anything BUT your smartphone - u can simply wirelessly connect to a big screen / keyboard / mouse if required...
  8. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,112   +1,377

    Today you already can use such a device, it is called a tablet. One in particular - iPad, with wireless keyboard as an option. None of it is good though, from the usability point of view. And none of it would even scratch an imaginative mind.
  9. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Guru Posts: 820   +246

    I believe your imagination is lacking... I don't want a large tablet that is slower than my desktop.... I'm asking you to imagine a small smartphone that is just as powerful as the most powerful desktop RIGHT NOW.... as in, you could play Witcher 3 at 120FPS @ 4k res... on your iPhone!!
  10. Gardun

    Gardun TS Rookie

    While impressive, this has nothing to do with the computational power of the CPU itself, it only deals with the transfer of data between CPU and other functions such as RAM and Ethernet. A good analogy would be to compare it with the use of fiber for internet backbone traffic. If you have a shitty endpoint connection, you won't reap any of the benefits. However, it holds great promise for developing the standards for how devices in a computer are interconnected in the future.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  11. Puiu

    Puiu TS Evangelist Posts: 1,807   +484

    don't worry about intel. they have the money to develop something like this faster than anyone. all they need is to feel the heat from someone else (like they did when AMD had 64bit multicore CPUs that were destroying the P4)
    Lionvibez and Evernessince like this.
  12. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,079   +331

    Intel probably already has a prototype of something like this sitting in a lab. No need to show everyone your cards when there is no competition.
  13. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,079   +331

    You have have to be part of the yonger crowd that's cares about playing games on a smart phone.

    I won''t want to play witched 3 on a 5 inch screen regardless if the phone was powerful enough to do it. I would still take my full desktop setup with 5.1 audio and a high leather back chair over that. Where I'm connected to a constant power source.

    Doing anything serious on a mobile phone that can't last a full day on battery is a joke to be honest.
  14. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Guru Posts: 820   +246

    You're STILL not using your imagination! Imagine that your desktop was simply your iPhone - you just have a big screen, mouse, keyboard and speakers at home.... You have the choice to simply use it mobile or desktop.... And it could dock with anything... Wirelessly....

    Maybe even have some sort of holographic hi-def screen that can simply "appear" out of the iPhone, alleviating the need for a monitor!
  15. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,079   +331

    I see your point, but I guess I'm just different.

    My preference is to have a dedicated device that does its job well and not a multinational device that does every just ok but that is a personal preference. And with the current state of technology and the limitation of physics. You will never get a device that will be able to do that much compute in the small case a cell phone is built in.

    In an ideal situation I see your idea working.
  16. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Guru Posts: 820   +246

    I don't really think it will happen either.... but I IMAGINE it all the time :)
    Lionvibez likes this.
  17. DAOWAce

    DAOWAce TS Booster Posts: 248   +30

    So.. what about errors in transit?
  18. Camikazi

    Camikazi TS Maniac Posts: 797   +217

    If you can put this in a smartphone then you can put it in a desktop and make it much more powerful. All it would take is software compatibility since there is nothing stopping this going into a desktop at higher power.

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