Monday, December 10, 2012

Mixing Copper And Light: IBM Fabricates Another Speedy Chip

Today, IBM will announce a new process by which they can create a new computer chip with additional optical power. By combining optical links to the standard 90-nanometer chip-making procedure, IBM says they can create a chip capable of transferring data at a remarkable 25 gigabits per second, according to CNET‘s Stephen Shankland.

The notion of combining these two technologies on one chip certainly isn’t new. IBM’s announcement is significant in that they’ve been able to do it using standard equipment and a standard process.
The company also says they first plan to use these chips in data centers, multiple servers which are linked together, and supercomputers.

In addition to making an ultra-fast chip, one expert told the BBC these chips will also be cheaper to make, according to Leo Kelion of BBC News.

IBM will also explain these changes today at the 2012 International Electron Devices Meeting taking place in San Francisco.

This new chip gets most of its speed from the use of optical connections. The use of optics also lends a few other advantages, such as the ability to send larger amounts of data over longer distances.

These advantages have led many data centers to adopt optical connections, replacing their old copper cables.

While transferring data between two optically equipped computers may be speedy, the data needs to be converted to an electricity-based signal to be sent to the end user via copper cable. In order to do this, these data centers have to use specialized equipment.

IBM’s new chip makes use of both copper and optical connections, meaning this conversion process can happen right on the chip, without the need for extra equipment.

This ability to manufacture chips with tiny, built-in optronics is called nanophotonics, and one of IBM’s nanophotonics scientists explains this new process will help data centers and supercomputers deliver their information even more quickly.

“When you do an internet search your data goes into a data center and the information wanted might not be on just one chip or even one rack of chips,” explained Dr. Solomon Assefa, speaking to the BBC.
“The information may be distributed across this huge data center. The question is how to connect the chips together and do it fast. You want your results to come back to you very quickly.”

While they’ve figured out a way to process this quick chip in a cheap way, IBM also plans to make these chips even faster by improving these technological advancements and allowing multiple chips to work parallel of one another.

The company has been hard at work for over a decade researching this process and working out a way to produce such a chip. The company then began to build this chip earlier this year at an existing semiconductor factory.

In his interview with the BBC, Dr. Assefa said this sort of research needs to be done to keep up with the speed Internet-based products demand.

“Its driven by applications and services that continue to grow, be it search, video content, cloud computing, social networks, business analytics – all these use huge amount of data,” said Dr. Assefa.

“For our computer servers to keep up with this growth, so that we can actually make sense of the data through analytics and so forth, we need to have a new technology.”

For now, this technology will remain in the hands of the data centers and supercomputers of the world. However, Dr. Assefa also said his company is working on a way to bring these new chips to consumers within the next few years.

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