IBM chip breakthrough may lead to exascale supercomputers

New technology could help make the faster supercomputers a thousand times faster

IBM researchers have made a breakthrough in using pulses of light to accelerate data transfer between chips, something they say could boost the performance of supercomputers by more than a thousand times.

The new technology, called CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics, integrates electrical and optical modules on a single piece of silicon, allowing electrical signals created at the transistor level to be converted into pulses of light that allow chips to communicate at faster speeds, said Will Green, silicon photonics research scientist at IBM.

The technology could lead to massive advances in the power of supercomputers, according to IBM. Today's fastest supercomputers top out at around 2 petaflops, or two thousand trillion calculations per second.

The photonics technology could boost that to a million trillion calculations per second, or an exaflop, helping IBM to achieve its goal of building an exascale computer by 2020, Green said.

"In an exascale system, interconnects have to be able to push exabytes per second across the network," Green said. "This is an interesting milestone for system builders [who are] looking at building ... exascale systems in 10 years."

Multiple photonics modules could be integrated onto a single substrate or on a motherboard, Green said. Newer supercomputers already use optical technology for chips to communicate, but mostly at the rack level and mostly over a single wavelength. IBM's breakthrough will enable optical communication simultaneously at multiple wavelengths, he said.

The technology can be manufactured on a standard chip production line and needs no special tools, making it cost-effective, according to IBM. The current demonstration used a 130-nanometer CMOS manufacturing node, but IBM will pursue integration into "deeply scaled sub-100-nanometer CMOS processes," Green said.

The technology aims to replace the copper wires widely used today for data transfer between chips. Optics can be faster for distances of a few centimeters to a few miles, and consumes less power.

IBM hopes to eventually use optics for on-chip communication between transistors as well. "There is a vision for the chip level, but that is not what we are claiming today," Green said.

Intel is also researching silicon nanophotonics technology at the silicon level, but has not yet demonstrated the integration of photonics with electronics, according to Green.

IBM's nanophotonics breakthrough comes after a decade of work in this area at its labs worldwide. Beyond high-performance computing, the company sees the technology being used in other areas such as networking.

"The nice thing about it is we have a platform which allows us to address many different places simultaneously," Green said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags supercomputersprocessorsIBMhardware systemsComponentsHigh performance

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?