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Optical computing ushers in 10GHz chips

Whizz for lasers

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MPF Optical computing has been talked about ever since we were knee-high to a PDP-8, but former Intel luminary Bill Pohlmann thinks it's now only just around the corner.

Pohlmann was given the lead keynote to showcase his pet, optical bandwidth. A couple of years ago he founded Primarion, which has applied for around hundred patents in the area, and the goal is to have optical fibre interconnects talking to directly to the processor by 2005.

"We've never seen a point where chips can communicate as fast they as can compute," he said. "This kind of fast massively parallel technology really is an inflexion point for the industry."

Primarion has already demonstrated its optical repeater technology to extend Infiniband over long distances. But it's also planning to license references designs for CPU I/O modules, power modules and broadband communications circuits at 2.5GHz and 10GHz.

Not surprisingly Pohlmann says that metal I/O connects are at the practical limits, the signal to noise ratio goes down when voltage is scaled down, and heat and power requirements rise when it's scaled up.

Primarion uses small efficient lasers to convert electrical signals to optical signals and back again. And naturally, these are designed into 'POB's, or Printed Optical Boards, rather than PCBs.

As for speeds and feeds, Pohlmann talked about an optical port capable of transmitting 2x32 Gbits/second between the CPU and main memory.

Pohlmann led the design teams for Intel's 8086, 80286 and 960 processors. ®

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