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Laser chip sheds light on faster processing speeds to come

Antony Savvas
Intel has announced a breakthrough in using standard silicon chip manufacturing processes to create the world's first continuous-wave silicon laser to deliver faster processing.

The technology could help bring low-cost, high-quality lasers and optical devices to mainstream computing.

Intel researchers have found a way to use the Raman laser effect and silicon's crystalline structure to amplify light as it passes through the silicon.

When infused with light from an external source, the experimental chip produces a continuous high-quality laser beam.

Although still far from a commercial product, the ability to build a laser using silicon could lead to the development of inexpensive optical devices that move data inside and between computers at the speed of light, ushering in a flood of new applications for high-speed computing.

"Fundamentally, we have demonstrated for the first time that silicon can be used to build devices that amplify light," said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's photonics technology lab.

The use of high-quality photonic devices has been limited because they are expensive to manufacture, assemble and package. "This research is a major step towards bringing the benefits of low-cost, high-bandwidth silicon-based optical devices to the mass market," he said.

Future PCs may be powered by tiny lasers, amplifiers and optical interconnects that move terabytes of data around the computer and across networks, according to Intel.

The company has not published any timescales for commercial use of the technology.

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