FRANKFURT, GERMANY — IBM says it has made a breakthrough in converting electrical signals into light pulses that brings closer the day when supercomputing, which now requires huge machines, will be done on a single chip.
In research published Thursday in the journal Optics Express, IBM said it had produced electro-optic modulators a hundredth to a thousandth the size of comparable silicon photonics modulators and small enough to fit on a processor chip.
By connecting processing cores on a chip using light instead of wires, chip makers can bypass the problems of high energy consumption and heat generated by multi-core chips, enabling leaps in computing power.
IBM said it had reached a milestone in the quest to connect hundreds or thousands of processing cores on a tiny chip. By comparison there are nine cores on the sophisticated chips that power the Sony PlayStation 3 game console.
"Just like fiber optic networks have enabled the rapid expansion of the Internet by enabling users to exchange huge amounts of data from anywhere in the world, IBM's technology is bringing similar capabilities to the computer chip," said Will Green, IBM's lead scientist on the project.
Using light instead of wires to send information between the cores could be as much as 100 times faster and use 10 times less power than wires, he added.
Green said IBM had used standard industry processes and tools to make the tiny silicon Mach-Zehnder electro-optic modulators. That gave the research team confidence the process could be replicated commercially, although it would probably take at least a decade for that stage to be reached.