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Thursday, 02 December 2010 14:04

New IBM chip technology could boost density 10 fold & revolutionise optical communications

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IBM has unveiled a new chip technology that integrates electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon, claiming that it will enable a 10X improvement in integration density over current manufacturing techniques and the creation of 1Tbps electro-optical transducers just a few millimetres square.

IBM is hoping that the technology, dubbed silicon nanophotonics, will help it achieve the goal of its ambitious Exascale computing program to develop a supercomputer that can perform one million trillion calculations (one exaflop) per second; approximately 1000 times faster than the fastest machine today.

IBM says it has developed computer chips that can communicate using pulses of light instead of electrical signals and that this enables the production of smaller, faster and more power-efficient chips than is possible with conventional technologies.

"The new technology, called CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics, is the result of a decade of development at IBM's global Research laboratories," IBM said. "In addition to combining electrical and optical devices on a single chip, the new IBM technology can be produced on the front-end of a standard CMOS manufacturing line and requires no new or special tooling. With this approach, silicon transistors can share the same silicon layer with silicon nanophotonic devices."

According to IBM, using its new optical and electrical integration it could be possible to build single-chip eletro-optical transceivers measuring only  4x4mm able to receive and transmit at rates in excess of 1Tbps.

IBM claims that, by adding just a few more processing modules to a standard CMOS fabrication flow, the technology enables a variety of silicon nanophotonic components, such as: modulators, germanium photo detectors and ultra-compact wavelength-division multiplexers to be integrated with high-performance analogue and digital CMOS circuitry.

"As a result, single-chip optical communications transceivers can now be manufactured in a standard CMOS foundry, rather than assembled from multiple parts made with expensive compound semiconductor technology."

To make this approach possible, IBM says its researchers have developed a suite of integrated ultra-compact active and passive silicon nanophotonic devices that are all scaled down to the diffraction limit - the smallest size that dielectric optics can afford.

"Our CMOS Integrated Nanophotonics breakthrough promises unprecedented increases in silicon chip function and performance via ubiquitous low-power optical communications between racks, modules, chips or even within a single chip itself," said Dr Yurii A Vlasov, manager of the Silicon Nanophotonics Department at IBM Research

"The next step in this advancement is to establishing manufacturability of this process in a commercial foundry using IBM deeply scaled CMOS processes."

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