Techie types years ago started using the prefix megaâ€“for millions of bits or bytes of dataâ€“and got even more excited when they could adopt giga, for billions. Now IBM wants to apply the term tera to communications.
The computer maker on Thursday is disclosing a prototype set of chips that it believes is the first to reach a terabitâ€“delivering a trillion bits of data per second. Thatâ€™s the equivalent of downloading 500 high-definition movies, and is roughly eight times the capacity of comparable chip sets now on the market, Big Blue says.
IBMâ€™s innovation is not about the speed of any particular stream of data, but the number of streams available at the same timeâ€“like adding more lanes on the freeway can get more cars from Point A to Point B in a given amount of time. That improvement in bandwidth appeals to companies that make servers and need to connect them together, in hopes of speeding applications like sending videos to more Internet users at a higher speed.
The research effort is based on optical technology, which uses laser pulses to send data. In this case, the experimental IBM chip has 24 channels to receive data and 24 channels to transmit it, each handling data at speeds of 20 gigabits per second. The miniaturization effort required IBM researchers to create 48 holes in the transceiver chip, which is soldered together with lasers and other components in a package that the company dubs a â€œholey optochip.â€
Besides raw speed, computer companies like IBM are concerned with space and power efficiency. The transceiver chip measures only 5.2 millimeters by 5.8 millimetersâ€“about one-eighth the area of a dimeâ€“and draws 4.5 watts, a modest amount compared with other comparable components, IBM says.
â€œWe were very constrained here,â€ says Clint Schow, who manages the IBM research team that worked on the effort. â€œWe had to have a huge amount of bandwidth in a very small area.â€
Exactly how, and when, the development might find its way into commercial products is not clear. IBM doesnâ€™t sell such components, so would be inclined to hunt for partners to help commercialize the technology, Schow says. …