IBM optical chip zips huge files using little power

IBM today announced it had developed a prototype chip that could transmit up to 8 terabit/sec of information -- equivalent to about 5,000 high-definition video streams -- using the power of a single 100-watt lightbulb.

The applications for the technology IBM is calling its  “green optical link” range from cell phones to supercomputers. The optically-enabled circuit boards, or "Optocards," employ an array of low-loss polymer optical waveguides to conduct light between transmitters and receivers, IBM said.

The complete databus constructed with these Optocards incorporates a large number of high-speed channels and closely packs them to achieve huge densities: each waveguide channel is smaller in size than a human hair, IBM said.  In addition to the optical data bus, IBM said it developed a parallel optical transceiver module with a higher number of channels and an increased speed of operation: 24 transmitters and 24 receivers that each operate at 12.5 Gb/s.

The resulting total bi-directional data transfer rate is 300 Gb/s, nearly doubling the performance of a version IBM introduced last year. Compared to current commercial optical modules the transceiver provides 10-fold greater bandwidth in 1/10 the volume while consuming comparable power, IBM said. 

Big Blue said perhaps the new optical technology’s most important benefit will be saving massive amounts of power in supercomputers. For a typical 328ft long link, the power consumed by the optical technology is 100 times less than today's electrical interconnects, and offers a power savings of 10 times over current commercial optical modules, IBM claims.

Other applications include: ·          Video: This technology will enable widespread high definition video sharing and video on-demand by increasing the bandwidth of video servers.  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.  By incorporating an optical data port in laptops, HD video recorders, personal mp3 and video players, cell  phones, or PDAs, HD video content could be stored and displayed on high-resolution screens.

·          Healthcare: Physicians and researchers could send large files such as MRIs and heart scans for real-time  analysis and 3-D visualization.

·          Electronics: "Scaled-down" versions of the optical interconnect technology may find applications in cell phones, one chip could sit in the base of  the phone and the other could sit in the display, letting large files, even high-definition content move from one to the other.  The advantage is that optics eliminate wires. 

This increased bandwidth is the result of two specific advances, Big Blue said. First, the new transceiver includes 24 channels for sending and receiving data compared to 16 such channels in the previous device. Second, the modulation rate of each of the transceiver's vertical cavity surface emitting lasers has been increased by 25% to 12.5 billion bits per second. In an effort to speed commercialization efforts, IBM has incorporated lasers and detectors that operate at the industry-standard wavelength of 850 nanometers (nm) instead of the proprietary 985-nn technology used in IBM’s earlier transceiver.  

The device was produced as part of an ongoing Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program to speed up chip-to-chip communications for supercomputers

Layer 8 in a box

Check out these other hot topics:

DARPA spends $38 million on first phase of virtual satellite network

Terminator rising: Killer military robot arms race under way

Software, portal target, predict terrorist behaviour

FBI warns: Hitman scam back with a vengeance

What are the 14 greatest engineering challenges for the 21st century? 

Prototype software sniffs out insider threats 

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

SD-WAN buyers guide: Key questions to ask vendors (and yourself)