Intel Silicon Photonics Breakthrough Paves Way For Lightspeed I/O And Chip Interconnects

intel silicon photonics rings
Intel Labs has announced that it has made a noteworthy advancement in the area of integrated photonics research, which it bills as the "next frontier" in expanding communications bandwidth between compute silicon in data centers and across networks. The company believes this advancement holds the promise of a future input/output (I/O) interface with improved energy efficiency and bandwidth, and a longer reach.

The disclosure explains the possibility to obtain well-matched output power in conjunction with uniform and densely spaced wavelengths, according to Haisheng Rong, Senior Principal Engineer at Intel Labs. Rong also points out that this can be done by utilizing existing manufacturing and process techniques in Intel fabs, and therefore ensures a path to volume production of the "next-generation co-packaged optics and optical compute interconnect at scale."

Intel states that this breakthrough results in industry-leading advancements in multiwavelength integrated optics. It includes the demonstration of an eight-wavelength distributed feedback (DFB) laser array that is fully integrated on a silicon wafer and provides exceptional output power uniformity of +/-0.25 decibel (db), as well as wavelength spacing uniformity of +/-6.5% that go beyond industry specifications.

intel silicon photonics lasers
Image Credit: Intel Labs

What all of this means, according to the tech giant, is that the advancement will promote the production of the optical source with the required performance for future high-volume applications. That entails things like co-packaged optics and optical compute interconnects for increasing network-intensive workloads, which consist of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The laser array is constructed on the company's 300-millimeter silicon photonics manufacturing process, which will lay the groundwork for high-volume manufacturing and broad deployment.

Intel Silicon Photonics Demonstration

The array was designed and fabricated using Intel's commercial 300mm hybrid silicon photonics platform. The innovation is said to illustrate a significant advancement in the capabilities of laser manufacturing in a high-volume complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) fab by using the same lithography technology utilized to manufacture 300mm silicon wafers with tight process control. The technique produced better wavelength uniformity compared to conventional semiconductor lasers manufactured in 3-inch or 4-inch III-V wafer fabs. Also, due to the tight integration of the lasers, the array retains its channel spacing when the ambient temperature is changed.

Intel says it is committed to developing solutions to meet the growing demand for more efficient and resourceful network infrastructure. It believes its latest advancement in silicon photonics technology will help to produce a future optical compute interconnect product that can offer power-efficient, high-performance multi-terabit per second interconnect between compute resources, including CPUs, GPUs and memory.

Top Image Credit: Intel