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Lightening the load of desktop supercomputing

A new computing technique that uses light rather than electricity to transfer data could provide laptops with the power of today’s fastest supercomputers.

While today’s supercomputers can use the equivalent energy required to power hundreds of homes, these future tiny supercomputers-on-a-chip would expend the energy of a light bulb.

In a paper published in the journal Optics Express, IBM researchers detailed their latest Mach-Zehnder electro-optic modulator that coverts electrical signals into pulses of light. In a computer, this would be used to transfer information between separate processes at a higher speed, and lower power consumption, than traditional wires

The IBM modulator is 100 to 1,000 times smaller in size compared to previously demonstrated modulators of its kind, paving the way for devices that could provide optical routing networks to be integrated onto a single chip. IBM’s current Cell processor contains nine cores on a single chip, but the new device would allow the connection of literally hundreds or thousands of cores. In addition, the technique could transfer data at up to 100 times faster than electricity, to vastly improve the powers of computing systems.

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