Moving data with silicon and light

Intel® Silicon Photonics Technology is a new approach to make optical devices out of silicon and use light (photons) to move huge amounts of data at very high speeds with extremely low power over a thin optical fiber rather than using electrical signals over a copper cable. After nearly a decade of research and innovation to prove its viability, Intel created a P&L (Silicon Photonics Solutions Group) in 2012 to move the project into production.

MXC* Optical Connector Technology is Becoming Available

In September of 2013 Intel and Corning announced  a new Optical Connector technology called MXC*.  On March 11th, 2014 US Conec announced that it would start production shipments of MXC components to the industry in Q2 2014.  Corning also announced that it would start shipping MXC cable assemblies in Q3 2014.  Additionally Molex and TE Connectivity announced they would develop MXC based cables.

The World’s First Intel®-based Optical PCI Express* Server

Fujitsu has announced that it has worked with Intel to build and demonstrate the world’s first Intel-based Optical PCI Express* (OPCIe*) server. This OPCIe server was enabled by Intel® Silicon Photonics Technology.

Intel® Silicon Photonics Technology - Justin Rattner Keynote @ IDF 2013

Photonics Technology (SPT) and operating at 100 gigabits per second (Gbps). This is a completely integrated module that includes silicon modulators, detectors, waveguides and circuitry. Intel believes this is the only module in the world that uses a hybrid silicon laser. The demonstration was made via a video during Rattner’s keynote.

In addition to the Intel SPT module, Rattner showed the new photonics cable and connector that Intel is developing with Corning. This new connector has fewer moving parts, is less susceptible to dust and costs less than other photonics connectors. Intel and Corning intend to make this new cable and connector an industry standard. Rattner said the connector can carry 1.6 terabits of information per second.

Watch the video here >

Intel and Facebook Collaborate on Future Data Center Rack Technologies using Silicon Photonics

Intel and Facebook are collaborating on a new disaggregated, rack-scale server architecture that enables independent upgrading of compute, network and storage subsystems that will define the future of mega-datacenter designs for the next decade. The disaggregated rack architecture includes Intel’s new photonic architecture, based on high-bandwidth, 100Gbps Intel® Silicon Photonics Technology, that enables fewer cables, increased bandwidth, farther reach and extreme power efficiency compared to today’s copper based interconnects.

Mario Paniccia receives Innovator of the Year Award

Dr. Mario Paniccia received the 2011 EE Times’ “ACE” award for Innovator of the Year. These awards celebrate technologists who demonstrate leadership and innovation to change the electronics industry and the world. He won this for leading the research team that developed the 50Gbps Silicon Photonics Link, a concept fiber-optic connection designed to validate Mario’s vision to ‘siliconize’ photonics.

Research Milestone: 50G Silicon Photonics Link

Intel Labs has announced an important advance in the quest to use lasers to replace the use of electrons to carry data in and around PCs and servers a 50Gbps Silicon Photonics Link. This research prototype represents the world’s first silicon-based optical data connection with integrated lasers. This concept vehicle is the result of a multi-year silicon photonics research agenda, which included numerous world firsts. It is composed of a silicon transmitter and a receiver chip, each integrating all the necessary building blocks from previous Intel breakthroughs including the first Hybrid Silicon Laser (see below) as well as high-speed optical modulators and photodetectors announced in 2007.

The transmitter chip is composed of four such lasers, whose light beams each travel into an optical modulator that encodes data onto them at 12.5Gbps. The four beams are then combined and output to a single optical fiber for a total data rate of 50Gbps. At the other end of the link, the receiver chip separates the four optical beams and directs them into photo detectors, which convert data back into electrical signals. Both chips are assembled using low-cost manufacturing techniques familiar to the semiconductor industry.

For more information, download the technical paper presented at the Integrated Photonics Research conference.

Learn more>

Research Breakthrough: Hybrid Silicon Laser

Intel and the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) announced the demonstration of the world's first electrically driven Hybrid Silicon Laser. This device successfully integrates the light-emitting capabilities of Indium Phosphide with the light-routing and low cost advantages of silicon. The researchers believe that with this development, silicon photonic chips containing dozens or even hundreds of hybrid silicon lasers could someday be built using standard high-volume, low-cost silicon manufacturing techniques. This development addresses one of the last hurdles to producing low-cost, highly integrated silicon photonic chips for use inside and around PCs, Servers, and data centers.

Read the white paper >

Building Block Research

In order to "siliconize" photonics, there are six main areas or building blocks for investigation. These include generating the light, selectively guiding and transporting it within the silicon, encoding light, detecting light, packaging the devices and finally, intelligently controlling all of these photonic functions. Intel is working to address these areas, and this research has produced a few recent success stories, including the Hybrid Silicon Laser as well as modulators and detectors running at up to 40 Gbps.

Breakthrough: Avalanche Photodetector

As announced in Nature Photonics, Intel has collaborated with industry, academic, and government partners to develop a silicon-based avalanche photodetector (APD). APDs are light sensors that process optical communications to electrical signals. Intel's APD has a gain-bandwidth product of 340GHz, the best result ever reported for an APD.

Learn more about Intel's APD breakthrough by reading the Nature journal article, or reading the APD press release.

First Continuous Silicon Laser

In a paper published February 17, 2005 by the prestigious scientific journal Nature, Intel researchers disclosed the development of the first continuous wave all-silicon laser using a physical property called the Raman Effect. They built the experimental device using Intel's existing standard CMOS high-volume manufacturing processes. This is the third silicon photonics paper Intel has published in Nature since 2004, beginning with the modulator breakthrough (see the Learn More section).

The breakthrough device could lead to such practical applications as optical amplifiers, lasers, wavelength converters, and new kinds of lossless optical devices. A low-cost all-silicon Raman laser could also inspire innovation in the development of new medical, sensor, and spectroscopy devices.

Download the silicon laser white paper [PDF 168KB].

First GHz Silicon Modulator

Optical modulators are used to encode a high-quality data signal onto an optical beam, effectively by turning the beam on and off rapidly to create ones and zeros. Before the year 2004, no one had built an optical modulator from silicon that was faster than about 20 MHz. In February of 2004, Intel announced in the prestigious scientific journal Nature the first gigahertz silicon optical modulator. By integrating a novel transistor-like device, Intel was able to create a modulator that scaled much faster than previous attempts. In 2005, Intel researchers further demonstrated that this silicon modulator is capable of transmitting data up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps).

Vision and Applications

Over time, Intel's vision is to develop integrated, high-volume silicon photonic chips that could dramatically change the way that enterprises use photonics links for their systems and networks. Simply having photonics could eliminate bandwidth and distance limitations, allowing for radically new flexible architectures capable of processing data more efficiently. Silicon photonics may even have applications beyond digital communications, including optical debug of high-speed data, expanding wireless networks by transporting analog RF signals, and enabling lower-cost lasers for certain biomedical applications.