When it comes to faster computers, Intel has seen the light.

The chipmaker recently launched a new effort inside its Microprocessor Research Lab aimed at examining a move from using aluminum and copper wires for moving data inside computers to using fiber-optic strands. Fiber could be used to connect components, researchers say, but it could also eventually replace wires inside chips.

Power and speed are the main motives. Designers are faced with the conflicting goals of shrinking chips and simultaneously adding more transistors to boost performance. Adding transistors means increasing the electricity required to run a given chip. Unfortunately, shooting more power through a smaller chip increases signal interference, cuts down on battery life in notebooks and leads to more manufacturing defects.

Optical connections, which use laser light beams rather than electrical impulses to transmit signals, could solve some bottlenecks because they can run on less power. It won't be cheap or easy, but it might become the lead alternative. Other companies are also looking at organic connections.

"There are barriers for how much you can lower the voltage," said Bill Pohlman, CEO of Primarion, a chip designer working on ways to integrate optical fibers into semiconductors. "We're talking about a billion transistors on a chip operating at a half a volt at well over 10GHz."

News source: ZDNet

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