IBM breakthrough could slash price of optical PCs

IBM scientists have developed a system to slow down the speed of light and plans to use it as an optical power source to drive components in a PC.

IBM scientists have developed a system to slow down the speed of light and plans to use it as an optical power source to drive components in a PC.

Such an optical alternative would greatly accelerate the performance of machines without requiring heavy expenditure on expensive optical components.

The IBM device slows light down to 0.3% of its usual speed by directing it down a carefully designed channel of perforated silicon called a photonic crystal waveguide. The device can vary the speed of the light simply by applying an electrical voltage to the waveguide.

IBM said that actively controlling the light speed on a silicon chip, using standard silicon with standard micro- and nano-electronic fabrication technology, was an industry first.

The company said the small size of the device, its use of standard semiconductor materials, and its ability to more closely control this “slow light” could make the technology useful for building ultra-compact optical communications circuits that are practical for integration into computer systems.

While chip performance has continued to increase, electronic systems don't always reap the full benefits. IBM said the inability to move information more quickly around within electronic systems was one of the biggest bottlenecks in electronic design today.

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