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IBM drills holes into optical chip for terabit-per-second speed

IBM scientists have created a prototype optical processor that is capable of transfering a terabit of data every second. According to a report on ArsTechnica they came up with the design by drilling 48 tiny holes into a standard CMOS chip which then allowed for the movement of light. The chip is being named the ‘Holey Optochip’, technology which could actually improve the speed of supercomputers in the future.

Arstechnica say “Optical chips, which move data with light instead of electrons, are commonly used for interconnects in today’s supercomputers and can be found in IBM systems such as Power 775 and Blue Gene. Optical technology is favored over electrical for transmitting high-bandwidth data over longer distances, which is why it’s used for telecommunications networks, said IBM Optical Links Group manager Clint Schow.”

Photomicrograph of Holey Optochip, with 48 holes allowing optical access through the back of the chip to receiver and transmitter channels.

They add “Drilling holes into the chip lets IBM use industry-standard, 850-nanometer vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSEL), and photodiode arrays, both soldered on to the chip. The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to the transmitter and receiver channels, making it more compact.

“You need the holes because if you have the silicon substrate the chip is made out of, the light can’t go through it,” Schow said. “You need to make a hole to let the light pass through.” An IBM spokesperson further explains that “the optical devices are directly soldered to the front of the CMOS IC (integrated circuit) and the emission/detection of the optical signals is pointed toward the back of the chip. The holes are etched through the chip, one under each laser and detector to allow the optical signals to pass through the chip itself.”

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