Made in IBM Labs: New Chip Technology Lights the Path to Exascale Computing
IBM announced an important chip technology advancement that is expected to lead to smaller, faster and more power-efficient chips than is possible with conventional chip-making techniques. The technology integrates electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon, and enables computer chips to communicate using pulses of light (instead of electrical signals), leading to significant improvements in performance at both the chip and system levels.

The new IBM technology, called CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics, is the culmination of a 10-year research effort across IBM's global research labs, and is expected to enable terabyte-per-second class of single-chip transceivers that can increase the # of interconnects within a computer system by hundreds of millions. These capabilities will advance IBM's ambitious Exascale computing program, which is creating a supercomputer that can perform one million trillion calculations—or an Exaflop—in a single second. The Exascale supercomputer will be approximately one thousand times faster than the fastest machine today.

IBM's patented nanophotonics advancement is unlike any optical chip technology proposed by others. For example, the new technology enables a 10X improvement in integration density, combining electrical and optical devices on the same piece of silicon. Furthermore, it can be produced on a standard CMOS chip manufacturing line and requires no new or special tools. This means that, unlike other approaches, IBM can produce single-chip optical communications transceivers in a standard CMOS foundry, instead of requiring multiple parts made with expensive or niche technologies that require special tools.

Details of IBM's silicon nanophotonics technology will be reported in a presentation delivered by Dr. Yurii Vlasov at the international semiconductor industry conference SEMICON held in Tokyo on the December 1, 2010.
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