Holey Optochip Capable Of 1Tbps Data Transfer Rates, Batman!

Brad Chacos

Punching a hole through your TV isn't generally regarded as a wise move, but as it turns out, punching holes -- 48 of them, to be exact -- through standard 90nm silicon CMOS chips is a decent first step towards superfast supercomputing. Sound crazy? Apparently, it isn't. Today, IBM announced it did just that with the awesomely named "Holey Optochip," a prototype optical chip that can transfer data at a blistering fast 1 terabit (1 trillion bits) per second rates.

Optical data transmission uses pulses of light to send information faster and more efficiently than the standard old "electrons via wire" method. Are you starting to see where the holes come in? They let light through to the 24/24 split of optical receiver/transmitter channels on the opposite side of the chip. Here are the technical details, right from the lion's (aka IBM's) mouth:

A single 90-nanometer IBM CMOS transceiver IC with 24 receiver and 24 transmitter circuits becomes a Holey Optochip with the fabrication of forty-eight through-silicon holes, or “optical vias” – one for each transmitter and receiver channel. Simple post-processing on completed CMOS wafers with all devices and standard wiring levels results in an entire wafer populated with Holey Optochips. The transceiver chip measures only 5.2 mm x 5.8 mm. Twenty-four channel, industry-standard 850-nm VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) and photodiode arrays are directly flip-chip soldered to the Optochip. This direct packaging produces high-performance, chip-scale optical engines. The Holey Optochips are designed for direct coupling to a standard 48-channel multimode fiber array through an efficient microlens optical system that can be assembled with conventional high-volume packaging tools .

So that's a lot of technicalese: what kind of real world benefits does the Holey Optochip bring? IBM says that the parallel optical transceiver can transfer the equivalent of 500 HD movies each and every second with its 1Tbps data rate. (Of course, that's just in-chip speed; other system components would slow that down.) As if that wasn't cool enough, IBM used industry standard parts to ensure an easy economy of scale when the chip hits manufacturing, and the Holey Octochip is Green to boot -- using only 5W of power. Or, as IBM puts it, "the power consumed by a 100W light bulb could power 20 transceivers."

High-speed optical chips are typically used in supercomputing and data center operations. You can check out the IBM press release for more information, and the company will be explaining more about the chip today at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in Los Angeles.

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