IBM aims to replace copper chip interconnects with light

Researchers closer to developing optical interconnects for chips

IBM researchers are a step closer to developing chips that use pulses of light instead of electrical signals to carry information between them.

The company has created a low-power device that can transfer information at high speeds using light.

"The device, called a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector, is the fastest of its kind and could enable breakthroughs in energy-efficient computing that can have significant implications for the future of electronics," IBM said in a statement, which included a video that details how the device works.

The device announced Wednesday, which was detailed in an article published by the journal Nature, is capable of transmitting data at speeds up to 40G bits per second, using a 1.5 volt power supply, IBM said. The light signals are carried over silicon circuits instead of the copper wires that are now used to carry electrical signals between chips.

The device, which is made using existing semiconductor technology, is particularly significant because it uses roughly 20 times less power than previous devices, IBM said.

The goal of researchers is to build an on-chip optical interconnect that would allow the construction of computers capable of exaflop performance, equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 floating point operations per second (flops).

To put that in perspective, a 1 exaflop computer would be nearly 600 times faster than the world's most powerful computer, a Cray XT5 called Jaguar at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which is was benchmarked at 1.75 petaflops, or 0.0175 exaflops.

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