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IBM could speed up large-scale computing by putting optical communication tools in chips

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Silicon Nanophotonics
Silicon Nanophotonics

Light-based communication promises superfast, cheap, and scalable computing, but much of the technology is still in development. Now, at this week's IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco, IBM has announced that a system based on light is ready for mass production. Called silicon nanophotonics technology, the system involves putting electrical circuits together with optical elements on a single, tiny chip. Fast pulses of light can then transmit information between chips in data centers or supercomputers, speeding up transfers and preventing the bottlenecks that can occur in traditional computing. Dr. Solomon Assefa of IBM also tells Ars Technica that the technology allows for more flexible system architecture: "Once you have this sort of universal technology, it provides a lot of different kinds of bandwidth capability."

IBM has been working on silicon nanophotonics for a decade and presented a proof of concept in 2010, but it now says the system has been tested and can be manufactured using standard methods. That means it could soon be used to develop faster supercomputers for solving power-intensive problems like modeling the universe, or to build the data centers that power cloud computing operations.