Ultra-high-speed optical communications link sets new power efficiency record

March 12, 2013
This shows optical link test chips, including transmitter circuits, laser diodes, photo diode, and receiver circuits. Credit: Image courtesy IBM

Ultrafast supercomputers that operate at speeds 100 times faster than current systems are now one step closer to reality. A team of IBM researchers working on a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded program have found a way to transmit massive amounts of data with unprecedentedly low power consumption.

The team will describe their prototype optical link, which shatters the previous record by half at the Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference (OFC/NFOEC) in Anaheim, Calif. March 17-21.

Scientists predict that the supercomputers of the future—so-called "exascale computers"—will enable them to model the global climate, run molecular-level simulations of entire cells, design nanostructures, and more. "We envision machines reaching the exascale mark around 2020, but a great deal of research must be done to make this possible," says Jonathan E. Proesel, a research staff member at the IBM T. J. in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. To reach that mark, researchers must develop a way to quickly move massive amounts of data within the supercomputer while keeping consumption in check.

By combining innovative circuits in IBM's 32-nanometer silicon-on-insulator complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (SOI CMOS) technology with advanced vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) and photodetectors fabricated by Sumitomo Electric Device Innovations USA (formerly Emcore), Proesel and his colleagues created a power-efficient optical communication link operating at 25 gigabits per second using just 24 milliwatts of total wall-plug power, or 1 pJ/bit. "Compared to our previous work, we have increased the speed by 66 percent while cutting the power in half," Proesel says. "We're continuing the push for lower power and higher speed in optical communications. There will always be demand to move more data with less energy, and that's what we're working toward."

Explore further: ARM Announces 45nm SOI Test Chip Results That Demonstrate 40 Percent Power Savings Over Bulk Process

More information: Proesel's presentation at OFC/NFOEC, titled, "35-Gb/s VCSEL-Based Optical Link using 32-nm SOI CMOS Circuits" will take place Monday, March 18 at 2 p.m. in the Anaheim Convention Center.

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1 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2013
This is already being done elsewhere ... nothing new here, move along, move along ... Eight bi-directional, multi-plexed channels @ 30 Gbps per channel over a single fiber for less than 15 watts total are already commercially available. ... Typical of DARPA to fund IBM research to catch up. The funding could have easily bought out the competition.
not rated yet Mar 25, 2013

The article's reported results are about 1040 gigabits per watt,
whereas your example is only 16 gigabits per watt. Even if the
efficiencies were equal, the usefulness for inter-chip or inter-board communication is obvious, whereas your example is relevant for cluster computing and long haul communication

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