IBM demonstrates light-based chip communication

By on March 4, 2010, 5:35 PM
IBM researchers have announced an important breakthrough today that could change the way computer chips communicate with each other in the future. The company has created a low-power device that can transfer data at high speeds using light, instead of electrical signals over copper wires. The light pulses are transmitted via silicon circuits and can supposedly handle data transfers of up to 40Gbit/s with a 1.5 volt power supply.

The device is called a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector and is made of silicon and germanium -- both used in current microprocessor chips. The term comes from the way the exchange of information happens, as explained by IBM: "Analogous to a snow avalanche on a steep mountain slope, an incoming light pulse initially frees just a few charge carriers which in turn free others until the original signal is amplified many times."

The rather complicated concept is not new but IBM claims it has been able overcome the speed limitations of previous systems from the likes of Intel and others. It will be a while before we see this integrated into mainstream manufacturing, though. IBM says probably five years for high-end servers and another five for video game systems and cell phones.

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Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Provided the scaling can be consistent with current standard manufacturing techniques, this technology could mean huge boosts in mobile computing, both in efficiency and speeds. Using a fraction of the power to run the same operation - imagine the battery life.

Armanian said:

Once again IBM are making improvements on the next revolution. I just wonder though, if this does ever make it into consumer electronics, how will they stop bits of dirt getting in between the light, as not everyone's pocket is clean (mine are).

I can see this in very very very very clean environments where not a speck of even the smallest dirt is, but out in the real world, its another matter that needs solving.

supyo said:

I'm commenting because i think this is cool and i want a new laptop

Wolfanoz Wolfanoz said:

Another new chip for another Nintendo system down the road.

Timonius Timonius said:

combine this with the concept of 'spintronics' (that is instead of harnesing the power of the spin of the electron rather than the electron itself) and we are are well on our way to all kinds of things. Now about that warp drive...

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

Armanian said:

Once again IBM are making improvements on the next revolution. I just wonder though, if this does ever make it into consumer electronics, how will they stop bits of dirt getting in between the light, as not everyone's pocket is clean (mine are).

I can see this in very very very very clean environments where not a speck of even the smallest dirt is, but out in the real world, its another matter that needs solving.

Based on what I watched I'd figure the light would have to be transmitted via some sort of transmission line (fiber optic or similar) or have the entire circuit sealed from airborne particles.

klepto12 klepto12, TechSpot Paladin, said:

this seems like a great way to extend battery life on mobile's and making the system a lot faster overall but 5 to 6 years seems like forever but this is fascinating and i will watch the tech closely.

buttus said:

How would this affect the cooling of the chips? Would they even run as hot with this new architecture?

DryIce said:

With that kind of power consumption I wouldn't even need a desktop, I could do everything on my laptop! Mobile gaming would be revolutionized!

red1776 red1776, Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe, said:

I still want to know when we will be able to use the optical out on the I/O panel of my computer.

flukeh said:

Armanian said:

Once again IBM are making improvements on the next revolution. I just wonder though, if this does ever make it into consumer electronics, how will they stop bits of dirt getting in between the light, as not everyone's pocket is clean (mine are).

I can see this in very very very very clean environments where not a speck of even the smallest dirt is, but out in the real world, its another matter that needs solving.

I would like to know about this situation as well. Companies would have to make tiny vacuums of space in between the chips, which would presumably be prone to being broken, and that is REALLY not an easy thing to fix one would think.

Renegeek said:

I think if this type of chip is used in pc's , for cpu to chipset to other devices... i think pc's and laptops could shrink smaller, and be so much faster... that would be sweet... so may possibilities....

CMH, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

As I recall, this technology has been announced for quite a few years, and so its not really groundbreaking news.

IMO, room-temp superconductors may be a better bet, although I think that one may be much farther down the road.

Yoda8232 said:

This could be the future here by IBM, but it sounds expensive.

40 Gbps? Chewie hit the light speed!

peas said:

The light signal still has to be converted to electrical before it's of any use. They need a pure photonic transistor before this will be of use in CPUs. By itself this is of no use in chips, with one exception. Where this will be useful is for transmission of information. Maybe a future USB, SATA, or PCIe type of bus that is optical.

DJ83 said:

I would think the the designers would have built in error correction to ensure the should a particle of dirt come in the way the signal would be retransmitted. This would mean while needing to operate in a clean environment it would not need a vacuum reducing the fragility of the device it would be used in.

Decimae said:

This might even be used to break the limit of Moore's law. Circuits can then get a lot smaller. The only problems here are the converters, which after a while, can't get smaller and the transistors, which can't get smaller, and still have to be made photonic, as peas said.

slh28 slh28, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I thought this already existed in the form of fibre optic lines? But just not the 40Gbps bit...

marls007 said:

this typically reminds when fiber optics where first introduced to replace copper wires. welcome to the photonic world.

EduardsN said:

buttus said:

How would this affect the cooling of the chips? Would they even run as hot with this new architecture?

This is just communication between chips, I'm assuming this will be just like fibre optics and is going to be used for communication between the northbridge, cpu, southbridge maybe even the ram. Imagine how fast this is going to be.

zaidpirwani said:

10 Years is a long time to WAIT.....

Serag said:

Amazing, at such low voltage it wouldn't generate much heat..

IBM making future,

fref said:

Looks interesting, but this sounds like the sort of thing that never makes it to actual products despite IBM saying 5 to 10 years. Kind of like all those multilayered disks we've seen being announced in the last few years (ie: 200GB Bluray disks with 8 layer disks and the likes).

compdata compdata, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Yeah, i guess i am certainly skeptical in the near term. I am currently integrating a "cutting" edge RF to fiber conversion system, and it definitely has some power/heat issues for the targeted application. I know this is a slightly different problem that we are working on, but i would be very surprised if they were able to get this into a reasonable sized package in 5 years.

walliot walliot said:

This is pretty cool! So if I unplug my CPU during usage... the motherboard will shine a ray of light across my room.

On the serious side, this IS pretty cool. Imagine the power savings it'll do! It's about time the world goes eco if you ask me.

natefalk natefalk said:

This is the future of computers. You can only go so fast with electronics. So you either have to move to a light-based system or Quantum computing. I'd bet in 20-30 years we will wonder how we got by with our current digital electronic based circuitry.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

This technology could apply within chips eventually, as well as between chips. Heat will drop as power requirements to maintain the communications bus drops. And the pipelines will most likely be a sealed system, such as fiber optic strands, so the whole "needs to be in a clean room" situation would be avoided.

Couple this technology with some of the optical processor tech we hear snippets on occasionally, and the future looks bright indeed (pun intended).

Trillionsin Trillionsin said:

A few months ago I was wondering if they could make motherboards without using electricity, or as little as possible. Using fiber optics instead of copper wires and such in the board. Though I know its not really possible to do this without using electricity, I think everything humans are going to make rely on electricity. The reason I was thinking of this idea was that this type of chip communication is not effected by EMI. Now if only the controllers for these interfaces were somehow powered by something other than electricity.. is it possible? I dont think people can think outside that box yet.. i cant.

fadownjoo said:

wow fiber optics is taking over quickly, i would like to see this in cars and stuff

Jinto Jinto said:

Great, this is exactly the kind of technology that will create an army of Commander Data's to kill us all.

NightAngel79 said:

All the tech stuff aside, that just sounds freakin awesome!!!

bearspencer said:


Know how you feel.

Though as a Terry Pratchett fan "I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it."

theosephus said:

If they can follow through with this design and take the risks necessary to set an example for other technology developers, we will see a marked reduction in electricity consumption and a more efficient future.

let's hope the electricity providers don't start to panic and raise prices, haha!

Riun355 said:

The rate that data transfer is increasing is wonderful. Also, the low power consumption's an added bonus. This sort of thing just makes me really happy.

levar said:

nanophotonic avalanche photodetector awesome name lol anyways 5 years thats around the corner! I'm looking forward to this 40Gbit/s thats fast! Thats a whole new level of gaming and mobile this could mean a lot its low powered, both phones and games system & computers that's less battery power lower chance of a system over-heating faster load times in games oh my! I'm getting excited just from typing.

Adhocdegra said:

Wow. The technology is not far fetched, but I'm interested in information that has not been provided. The cascading effect seems to hint at something else for the actual data stream. If you take the video literally, it shows one clean proton in and a ton of electron garbage out with little or no control over singularities, but are stuck with pluralarities for the end result of data (lots of worthless junk code caused by lots of excessive electron cascades).

However, I could see algorithms and formulaes being broken up and congruently run in multiple parallel within a chip or single-chip multi-processing (Multi-Core or Multi-CPU competition by a single photon-chip). On the energy side as described, only one particle (proton) is moved (energy consumption or cost) that then cascades multiple free energy particles (electrons), then the video fails to state how much free energy is actually produced (cascaded).

Between 2000 and 2003,

1. Bell Labs Switzerland trapped light in a silicon wafer at 15 microns and were working towards 9 microns. The best I could see from the sample wafer was a flashlight or night light that required no electricity or batteries at the time I became aware of and saw the wafer. I was curious as how it could be applied to microchips or as a true photo-chip processor or whatever type chip.

Obviously, it's impossible to turn off, but doesn't require anymore energy introduction or conversion, if they ever develop it. The only downside I could see is if the silicon wafer cracked - the end of that. Crystal polarity and photo polarity could be used as the means of data storage and transmission without having to allow the light to escape or without having to release the excited photons.

2. Two independent U.S. university groups trapped light within a 3 millimeter fiber optics section using 'super cooled sodium' in one university research group and 'warm rubidium' in the second university research group.

The protons were physically stopped within the optic fiber which is the first time light had ever been reduced to 0 MPH/KPH, where as in a cyclotron light could only be slowed to about 14 to 25 MPH (about the speed of a typical bicyclist) and sped up to 6 times the normal speed of light. Light must travel at 6 to 8 times the normal speed of light to escape the gravitational pull of a typical blackhole. The cyclotron experiments is an advent to future space research satellites, if they can figure out how to miniaturize the cyclotron (LOL).

The trapped light was easily and completely released with an introduction of a single proton. Both independent university research groups discovered that the protons contained in the trapped light automatically lined up into a dual binary system and estimated that the trapped light (protons) contained in the 3 millimeter segment of optical fiber could store well over 2.4+ kilometers of data.

Natural physical dual-binary proton alignment of light trapped with 'super cold sodium' or 'warm rubidium'. *An attempted representation of the actual physical protons.*

\ | /

/ | \

Currently, all publicly available photo electronic technologies in use do not utilize the full potential of light, other than using pulses of light for data (comparable to morse code using a flashlight), or photo polarity with crystal polarity. Electron manipulation of crystal polarity is common such as with the Junction Transister. Crystals can also be crushed to release electrons, such as with crystal-electronic lighters, etcetera.

Electrons can also be released by bombarding a conductor, but that's generally high power with exception of naturally radioactive conductors. Millions of anti-matter (positive electrons) have been found to be created and released by bombarding gold (as small as 1 millimeter square) with a laze. A single low-power fractional second pulse laze shot at the gold created on average about 180,000 anti-matter particles per pulse. Not sure how useful anti-matter and electronic circuitry work well together at this time.

I guess IBM is not using this dual-binary aspect of light. Who knows what technology is actually integrated? I need more information please, aside from the troubleshooting video chart reliant on a audio narrative. 40 Gigabits sounds more like an intentional impedence.

I'm probably reading too much into the video, and it's probably not really a true photonic chip, but an electronic chip that uses photon bombardment of an array of photo-sensors [an element array of miniaturized plug-in photo-sensitive night lights].

Oh well. Had my hopes up for the even better technology with the potential: no plugs and no batteries required.

Guest said:

40Gbit\s WOW imagine what's possible when everything is tweaked.Imagine using (more?) colours !

We can't imagine what a leap this would be.

Well let us hope they work fast,I'd love to see a supercomputer run on this tech.


techsp10 said:

IBM is known to be a giant company in the IT industry.....

Their idea is pretty good and it's gonna be fantastic one....

Wow I don't think that they could have this product but indeed it come true......

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