IBM nanophotonic switch for routing optical data between chip cores

The sending of information inside a computer chip by using light pulses rather than electrons has taken a step forward with the building of what's claimed to be the 'world's tiniest' nanophotonic switch by IBM

With a footprint about 100 times smaller than the cross section of a human hair, the switch is claimed to be an important building block to control the flow of information inside future chips and can speed up the chip performance while consuming less energy.

"This development is a critical addition in the quest to build an on-chip optical network," said Yurii Vlasov, manager of silicon nanophotonics at IBM's TJ Watson Research Centre. "Our vision for on-chip optical networks is becoming more and more realistic."

In a paper published in the journal Nature Photonics - 'High-throughput silicon nanophotonic wavelength-insensitive switch for on-chip optical networks' by Yurii Vlasov, William MJ Green, and Fengnian Xia - IBM unveils the development of a silicon broadband optical switch, another key component required to enable on-chip optical interconnects.

Once the electrical signals have been converted into pulses of light, this switching device performs the key role of 'directing traffic' within the network, ensuring that optical messages from one processor core can efficiently get to any of the other cores on the chip.

The device is able to route a huge amount of data since many different wavelengths or 'colours' of light can be switched simultaneously. With each wavelength carrying data at up to 40Gbps, it is possible to switch an aggregate bandwidth exceeding 1Tbps - a requirement for routing large messages between distant cores.

IBM scientists also showed that their optical switch is capable of operating within a realistic on-chip environment, where the temperature of the chip itself can change in the vicinity of so-called 'hot-spots', which move around depending upon the way the processors are functioning at any given moment. The IBM scientists believe this temperature-drift tolerant operation to be one of the most critical requirements for on-chip optical networks.


Image: IBM's latest nanophotonic switch is claimed to be an important building block to control the flow of information inside future chips

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