Going towards the light: Researchers look into replacing wire chip interfaces with optical

The interface between the CPU and the motherboard is a good place for electricity and heat leakage, and it’s also a computation bottleneck. In the interest of faster, better supercomputers (probably to better calculate oil revenues), the Pentagon has granted Sun Microsystems a $44 million contract to investigate an alternative to the physical connections which seem to be holding out systems back. By using micro-lasers instead of connecting wires, they’re looking at creating a system where “each chip would be able to communicate directly with every other chip in the array via a beam of laser light that could carry tens billions of bits of data a second.” Suuure.

Sounds a bit science fiction-y, and even the researchers are skeptical, predicting a “50 percent chance of failure.” That said, this seems like the kind of big, ambitious research that will almost certainly spawn something interesting, though it may not be what they set out to find — which is to say petaflops by the bushel. There’s more through the link but surprisingly few technical details.

Replacing Wire With Laser, Sun Tries to Speed Up Data [NY Times]