The first processor that can use light to communicate with the external world is the result of a combined effort between Universities of California - Berkeley, MIT and Colorado, Boulder.
The new chip, described in a paper published Dec. 24 in the print issue of the journal Nature, marks the next step in the evolution of fiber optic communication technology by integrating into a microprocessor the photonic interconnects, or inputs and outputs (I/O), needed to talk to other chips.
Advantages of the new chip:
- Greater bandwidth with less power (10x - 50x greater than current electrical microprocessors and consumes 1.3 Watts of power to transmit a terabit of data per second).
- Signal can be transmitted way further without the need of a repeater (1m is approximately the limit for high-speed electrical links).
- Different wavelengths could be used at the same time to increase data transfer.
- These adaptations all worked within the parameters of existing microprocessor manufacturing systems, and that it will not be difficult to optimize the components to further improve their chip’s performance.
The current research lead to the creation of two new startup companies, one is Ayar Labs (ex OptiBit) where researchers are focusing on photonic interconnects while SiFive is commercializing the RISC-V processors.