Intel develops fast, cheap optical links on silicon

Intel has developed low-cost silicon technology for optical communications.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers

Intel is claiming "world record" performance in optical communications using silicon photonics, in a development announced in the journal Nature Photonics.

Intel silicon photonics
Intel silicon photonics Intel

Silicon photonics-based photo dectors are used to send and receive optical information, particularly in very high-bandwidth applications like supercomputers. Intel says silicon photonics is essential for "ultra-fast transfer of data (in) future computers powered by many processor cores."

The development is significant because it is based on silicon--a readily available, low-cost material used in semicondutor chips today--and outperforms more exotic, pricier materials. To date, Silicon photonics technology, using complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) techniques, has suffered from performance shortcomings.

"This research result is another example of how silicon can be used to create very high-performing optical devices," Mario Paniccia, an Intel Fellow and director of the company's Photonics Technology Lab, said in a statement. The development can be used not only in optical communications but areas such as sensing, imaging, quantum cryptography, and biological applications, Paniccia said.

A team led by Intel researchers created a silicon-based Avalanche Photodiode (APD) to achieve a "gain-bandwidth product" of 340 GHz. Intel claims this is "the best result ever measured for this key APD performance metric" and allows lower-cost optical links running at data rates of 40Gbps or higher.

The research was jointly funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Numonyx, a flash memory chipmaker, provided manufacturing and process development.