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January 15, 2013


Replies: 6

Computers Using Light

BrownBoxStudio Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I was curious if anyone has wondered if computers can transfer information using light. I don't know much about how it works but I know that data transfer would be so much faster. From what I have read it seems that computer parts might get really expensive but it might be worth it with how much faster data transfer might be. Sounds like they are also cheaper to run as they require less energy.

According to popular science IBM says that we should see a commercial version of the chips using light in super computers around 2018.

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Devious Comments

Lytrigian Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This used to be called optical computing. A former co-worker of mine had done his doctoral work at Oxford on precisely this subject. This would have been back in the 1960s, if I'm not mistaken. At the time, it wasn't possible to create optical components on the same scale and power as electronic, but they showed it was possible at least in principle. Whether it's now practical, I don't really know.
CinderBlockStudios Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
You're referring to Fiber Optics. Which is used in some internet connections.
pyrohmstr Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Professional Artist
Yes, there are computers using light :)

The current supercomputers all use fiber optic interconnects. The major types are known as Infiniband and Tofu. Well, they use both copper and fiber :p but they already use tech like this, just not on the actual processor die. They don't really need that though, processors in super computers are already highly interconnected.

There are also some research labs working with laser-based computation that uses light interference to do calculations. They shine lasers in one end of a non-linear optical material and can get calculations out the other end. Non-linear optics is magic mixed with stupidly complex math. You can imagine making a NAND gate would be rather simple and so you could make any other gate from those simple NANDs.

As for light buses in future chips. I highly doubt that we'll see that by 2018 in consumer chips. Reason being that right now, signal propagation speed on copper (and aluminum) is effectively infinite in a chip. The delay is in the logic gates themselves. So by speeding up data transfer IBM really hasn't done anything super useful if you still have use the slow gates that we have today. It might be useful if you're accessing main memory but I doubt that we'll really make main memory fast enough to warrant that sort of tech.

Think of it this way, right now the slowest part of the chip by far is the logic. Feeding more information into that logic isn't going to make it go faster. I think you'll see supercomputers going for FPGA coprocessors and in-memory operations before you see them going optical. Actually, I know what Argonne National Lab is planning to build in 2018 and it is FPGA based :p I think popSci is forgetting that the supercomputers planned for 2018 have already been designed and are more or less just spending the next 5 years physically being built and funded.
Pakaku Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013
Intel is going to unveil Lightpeak eventually. For now, there's Thunderbolt. Which is great and all, but there's nothing to plug the other end of the cable into.

Oh, and optical fibre cables have been around for a while :B
Vargson Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Where exactly are you going with this thread? Do you have any questions? This is not really a topic that will start a discussion.
BrownBoxStudio Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
I did but I realized I had really poorly written this due to not reading it before posting. Deviantart doesn't have edit buttons so I just hoped for the best :/ Sorry about that.
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