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IBM last week unveiled a prototype technology that researchers say could deliver massive amounts of bandwidth in an energy efficient way to devices ranging from supercomputers to cell phones. Just how massive? Think 8 terabits per second of information - using only 100 watts of power.
The new technology puts optical chips and optical data buses in a single package with standard components. It’s aimed at applications that require sharing huge files, such as healthcare sites that need to exchange high-definition medical images, or people who want to swap large video files.
Specifically, IBM's new optical network technology consists of optically-enabled circuit boards, or "Optocards," that use polymer optical waveguides to conduct light between transmitters and receivers. Each waveguide channel is smaller than a human hair, IBM says, and the Optocards are densely packed on the databus to create an integrated optical module, or "Optochip." IBM says its 10 Gigabit/channel databus is the first ever demonstration of an integrated module-to-module, 32-channel optical datalink on a printed circuit board.
In addition to the optical data bus, IBM also developed a parallel optical transceiver module with 24 transmitters and 24 receivers that each operate at 12.5 Gigabit/sec.
On the energy-efficiency front, the new optical technology could save significant amounts of power in supercomputers, IBM says. For a typical 100-meter long link, the optical technology consumes 100 times less power than today's electrical interconnects, and saves 10 times the power of current commercial optical modules, according to Big Blue.
The prototype “green optical link” builds on related work unveiled by the same research team in 2007.
“Last year we unveiled an optical transceiver chip-set that could transmit a high-definition movie in under a second using highly customized optical components and processes,” said IBM Researcher Clint Schow, part of the team that built the prototype, in a statement. “Just a year later, we've now connected those high speed chips through printed circuit boards with dense integrated optical ‘wiring.’ Now we have built an even faster transceiver and have moved the optical components away from custom devices to more standard parts procured from a volume manufacturer, taking an important step toward commercializing the technology.”
Here are some of the potential uses IBM sees:
* High-definition video sharing: “Web-serving sites that host videos could use the technology to access libraries with millions of high-definition movies and video clips in seconds, speeding up access for users,” IBM suggests. Vendors could also incorporate an optical data port in laptops, video recorders and handheld devices to store and display HD video content.
* Patient care: Medical personnel could exchange big images, such as MRIs and heart scans, for analysis in real time.
* Consumer electronics: Scaled-down versions of the optical interconnect technology could be used in consumer products, such as cell phones, to allow device displays to be moved freely without being impeded by electrical wires.