International Business Machines Corp (IBM), whose chips run such devices as Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 machine, is developing technology that uses light to let semiconductors send data hundreds of times faster.
IBM researchers have converted electrical signals into pulses of light inside a modulator that's about the width of a human hair, according to a paper published in the journal Optics Express. The modulator may eliminate the need for the tiny copper wires that transmit information between chip cores, the brains of semiconductors.
Chipmakers see these metal wires as a future bottleneck for communication between components, a problem that limits the performance gains of computers. Finding a way to have chips talk to each other using pulses of light is one way of speeding things up. It may be more than 10 years before the technology is used commercially, IBM said.
"What we're trying to do is take the capabilities of more than one thousand personal computers and put them on a single microchip," Will Green, the lead scientist on the project, said in an interview.
By speeding communication, the technology may let chipmakers put more cores onto one piece of silicon. That would make chips more powerful without using as much energy. The equivalent of a supercomputer could run on the electricity it takes to power a light bulb, IBM said.
IBM isn't alone in developing the technology.
Intel Corp and other semiconductor companies also are seeking alternatives to copper wires.
The new modulator, developed at IBM's Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, is several hundred microns in length and at least 100 times smaller than earlier models, the company said today in a statement. A micron is one-millionth of a meter.
The use of modulators could allow for the placement of hundreds or thousands of cores on a chip, Green said. IBM's most advanced semiconductor, used in the PlayStation 3, has nine cores on a single piece of silicon.
"This kind of computer capacity can create extremely powerful laptop instruments that may be used in everything from mobile biological laboratories to video games that render virtual worlds in three dimensions for a fully immersive experience," Green said.
In other news, IBM has filed a trade complaint in the US against Asustek Computer Inc (
Asustek, the world's largest motherboard maker, was named on Wednesday in the complaint to the US International Trade Commission in Washington, according to the agency's Web site.
Asustek said it had commissioned US lawyers to deal with the issue and it would be cooperative in future investigation, according to a filing with Taiwan Stock Exchange yesterday.
The company reiterated that it had not infringed on IBM's patents, the filing said.
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