Laser-powered computer chips will be better in every way

Lasers really are the future of pretty much everything, including computer chips. HP has been experimenting with photonically-interconnected microprocessors that promise to eventually be able to increase the processing power of today's fastest supercomputers by a factor of a hundred.

That crazy looking picture above shows HP's prototype "micro-ring photonic device," part of a photonic chip architecture named Corona, in action. This is what it looks like turned off, under an electron microscope:

corona_EM.jpg

Corona is a 3D integrated photonic chip that will eventually incorporate 256 general purpose cores organized in 64 four-core clusters. That's a lot of cores, but what makes Corona so fast is the fact that everything is optically interconnected. With lasers. The cores will be able to communicate with each other at 20 terabytes per second, with memory looped in at 10 terabytes per second, yielding an overall speed of 10 trillion floating points operations per second.

And that's just one chip. Integrated into supercomputers, we could be looking at true exascale computing, which means a billion gigahertz. We simply cannot do this with non-optical chips, since not only are they slower, but they're also far less efficient, using more energy and producing more waste heat. Photonics could slash chip energy requirements by a factor of 10 or 20, which isn't just great for supercomputers, but also for mobile computing.

Lots of companies (besides HP) have been working on this stuff, and chipmakers are in the process of adapting their manufacturing process to make integrated photonic components. If we're lucky, Corona (and similar technologies) should start becoming available within the next three to five years.

Via Wired

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