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IBM unveils one trillion bit-per-second optical chip

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March 12, 2012

IBM's prototype 5.2 x 5 .8 mm Holey Optochip

IBM's prototype 5.2 x 5 .8 mm Holey Optochip

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Last Thursday at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in Los Angeles, a team from IBM presented research on their wonderfully-named "Holey Optochip." The prototype chipset is the first parallel optical transceiver that is able to transfer one trillion bits (or one terabit) of information per second. To put that in perspective, IBM states that 500 high-def movies could be downloaded in one second at that speed, while the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive could be downloaded in an hour. Stated another way, the Optochip is eight times faster than any other parallel optical components currently available, with a speed that's equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users, if they were using regular 10 Mb/s high-speed internet.

One of the unique features of parallel optic chips is the fact that they can simultaneously send and receive data. The Holey Optochip capitalizes on that feature, for its record-setting performance.

The "Holey" in the name comes from the fact that the team started with a standard silicon CMOS chip, but bored 48 holes into it. These allow optical access to its inside back surface, where 24 separate receiver and transmitter channels are located - for a total of 48 channels. Each of those channels has its own dedicated VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) and photodetector, which are used respectively for sending and receiving data. The chip is designed to be coupled to a multimode fiber array, via a microlens optical system.

The back of the IBM Holey Optochip, with lasers and photodectors visible through substrate...
The back of the IBM Holey Optochip, with lasers and photodectors visible through substrate holes

All parts of the Optochip are made from commercially-available components, which should keep costs down on a production model. Also, the chip consumes less than five watts when operating - 20 of the devices could run on the power consumed by one 100-watt light bulb.

"We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations," said IBM Researcher Clint Schow. "We aim to improve on the technology for commercialization in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners."

Source: IBM via Popular Science

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
11 Comments

Holy Optochip Batman. I need one of those to run my Harley.

Buellrider
12th March, 2012 @ 01:24 pm PDT

RealPlayer will still take 30 seconds to buffer.....

Erik Shomsky
12th March, 2012 @ 01:34 pm PDT

lol, real player... that program has always been a joke. Good ole IBM though, constantly innovating.

Ross Jenkins
12th March, 2012 @ 02:58 pm PDT

Interesting!

1Tb/sec is my back-of-the-envelope guesstimate of the total available bandwidth in the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Nice to see them shunting that down a single fibre! Makes some of my past scoffing seem foolish now (eg: why is everyone digging trenches to lay cables, when all we need to do is just co-operate on our use of the spectrum).

:-)

christopher
12th March, 2012 @ 07:55 pm PDT

I think if optical chips made of graphene are used, they will increase the efficiency, speed and improve the power consumption efficiency of digital devices way more than the same optical chips made of silicon.

Ahmad Mujtaba Mard-e Ahan
13th March, 2012 @ 06:17 am PDT

Thank you Buellrider, am still laughing!

ramdax
13th March, 2012 @ 08:24 am PDT

Just think, now we can calculate the federal deficit in 16 seconds!

kerwinmj
13th March, 2012 @ 09:38 am PDT

Moore's Law continued... Does anyone else see the importance of this device? For one, graphene cannot match the speed of light, maybe the speed of light in a highly refractive material, but I digress. By using standard processes, they are able to build light computers of arbitrary complexity, thus technology is advancing technology and exponential growth of science and technology continues. We will most likely break the petaflop barrier within the next 5 years, if not the decade.

Gwyn Rosaire
13th March, 2012 @ 11:17 pm PDT

Awesome

Aaron Stanwood
14th March, 2012 @ 10:11 am PDT

"IBM states that 500 high-def movies could be downloaded in one second at that speed"

1 Tbps for one second is 125 GB so that's 250 MB per HD movie.

BluRays are usually around 28 Mbps (so you can stream 36,000 HD movies).

Internet streaming is around 2 Mbps (720) to 4 Mbps (1080) (so you can stream 500,000 to 250,000 HD movies).

Ahhh uncompressed HD is 2 Gbps (1920*1080*32*30+48000*8*24) (so you can stream 500 HD movies).

Figured it out it should read like:

"IBM states that 500 [uncompressed] high-def movies could be [streamed] at that speed"

Bob Someone
15th March, 2012 @ 11:35 am PDT

A 100 watt light bulb is much too hot too hold, so 20 of these units are going to need some serious cooling.

windykites1
2nd April, 2012 @ 12:32 pm PDT
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