IBM Unveils Speedy Optical Chipset

IBM has announced the manufacture of a tiny optical chipset capable of moving data at speeds of 160GB per second. A prototype of the hardware, called an optical transceiver, is scheduled to be introduced Thursday at the 2007 Optical Fiber Conference in Anaheim, California. The chipset, which IBM claims is eight times faster than optical components in use today, streams data within computer systems over light pulses sent through plastic tubes, instead of over electrons traveling through copper wire. As a transceiver, the chipset handles data flowing in and out of a system, meaning it can do the work of 32 components (16 data senders and 16 receivers) used on today's boards, said Fred Zieber, analyst for Pathfinder Research. Besides higher data speeds, the IBM chip, which is less than a quarter the size of a dime, uses less energy, thereby generating less heat.

The chipset is for moving information over distances of less than a meter, making it optimal for use in rack servers and other equipment found in data centers, said Marc Taubenblatt, senior manager for Optical Communications Group at IBM Research. As the technology matures, it could also find its way in the home. In a set-top box, for example, a high-definition movie arriving over a cable connection could be processed and stored in a second, versus the minimum of 30 minutes required today by the fastest connections. Taubenblatt noted: "We're probably four or five years out before it starts showing up in leading-edge products." Before the technology could hit the market, however, IBM would have to work with circuit-board manufacturers, which would have to introduce news processes for high-volume production. Also, early generation systems with the optical chipsets would continue to use traditional copper wiring in areas where slower speeds are sufficient. The goal is to reduce the cost to about the same for technology using copper wires. "That's what we're competing with. We think we can get down to the same price target for optical," Taubenblatt said.

News source: InformationWeek

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