IBM scientists have announced a research breakthrough that could transform supercomputing.
Someday, they say, supercomputers that consist of thousands of individual processor "brains" connected by copper could instead fit into a laptop, and, only expend the energy of a light bulb in the process.
The breakthrough was published in the journal Optics Express, and explains how the silicon Mach-Zehnder electro-optic modulator (I know I have one of those lying around the house somewhere!) could convert electrical signals into pulses of light, allowing for optical routing networks to be integrated into a single chip instead of requiring signals to be transmitted via wires.
So what are the benefits of such an advance? Reductions in cost, energy usage, and heat, and increased communications bandwidth between the cores more than a hundred times faster of that on wired chips.
By way of example, today's IBM Cell processor, which powers the Sony Playstation 3, contains nine cores on a single chip.
This new approach, called silicon nanophotonics, aims to connect hundreds or thousands of cores together on a tiny chip by eliminating the wires required to connect them.
Using light instead of wires to send information between the cores can be 100 times faster and use 10 times less power than wires.
Halo 3 on nanophotonic steroids, anyone?