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Intel creates technology for low-cost 40 Gb/s optical links

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Intel creates technology for low-cost 40 Gb/s optical links

Santa Clara (CA) – Intel has been working on Silicon Photonics technologies as a possible to dramatically accelerate on-chip or in-system data bandwidths for some time now. Today the company added a new link in a complex chain that is required to make Silicon Photonics available in the mainstream – a low-cost Avalanche Photodetector supporting a clock speed of 340 GHz and enabling affordable 40 Gb/s data communications.

Optical devices are not uncommon in certain markets with high-performance and high-bandwidth requirements. However, these products are expensive due to the use of exotic materials, are typically produced in low volumes and on a long-distance level, often over several miles, or, in a best case, in a rack-to-rack environment, for example in supercomputer installations. To make this technology available on a chip level to the mainstream market, materials need to change and hurdles need to be overcome. Intel has placed its bets on Silicon-based Photonics some time ago with stunning new research developments such as silicon modulators and hybrid silicon lasers that were announced in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Intel now has completed another critical technology piece, an Avalanche Photodetector (APD) that could improve the performance of data transfers while leveraging the low-cost characteristics of silicon.

The silicon-based APD, a light sensor that that amplifies weak signals as light is directed onto silicon achieves a “gain-bandwidth” of 340 GHz, which is the highest speed ever recorded this key APD performance metric, Intel claims. When available in consumer devices, the technology could lead the way to optical links running at 40 Gb/s between chips or system components. What is especially impressive about this announcement is that Intel found that a silicon photonics device can exceed the performance of a device made with traditional, more expensive optical materials such as indium phosphide.

“This research result is another example of how silicon can be used to create very high-performing
optical devices,” said Mario Paniccia, Intel Fellow and director of the company’s Photonics Technology Lab. “In addition to optical communication, these silicon-based APDs could also be applied to other areas such as sensing, imaging, quantum cryptography or biological applications.”

Intel believes the technology could be a critical enabler for future bandwidth needs of data-intensive computing applications such as remote medicine and lifelike 3-D virtual worlds – and, of course, those applications that have not been invented yet.