by Christopher Lindquist

OPTICAL LINKS – Fiber All the Way

Feb 15, 20022 mins

Electricity is undeniably useful, but run it around the densely packed circuits that make up your average computer motherboard, and it can cause problems such as heat and electrical interference. Eliminating those issues lies at the core of Tempe, Ariz.-based Primarion’s dream, called Fiber to the Processor.

In three to five years, the broadband silicon chip company hopes to connect processors, memory and other components with high-speed, inexpensive optical links that will eliminate many of the performance-robbing pitfalls of today’s technology.

Primarion sees the InfiniBand storage connectivity bus as a natural step toward the final evolution. With InfiniBand, IT managers will be able to effectively separate computers from storage by providing high-speed connections between modular components. Expanding the idea further, however, would let system makers increasingly modularize PCs by connecting memory, processor, storage and I/O devices into a computing mesh. Adding new processors or more storage in this scheme would be a simple matter of attaching another module.

The first hurdle Primarion has to overcome is short-distance optical?the connections among various components that will make up a computer. Current options are bulky and expensive, but Primarion is developing optical packaging technology that doesn’t require special factories?which simultaneously will address both the size and cost issues.

The company has also created a power supply capable of keeping up with insanely fast optical systems. Current power supplies would have trouble syncing properly with the processor, which could result in data being misinterpreted. So Primarion has created a power system that it claims is 2.5 times faster than those existing for today’s gigahertz processors.

The end result could be machines far more flexible and orders of magnitude faster than anything that exists today. “If optical links are cheap enough, they’ll certainly be everywhere,” says President and CEO Dan Clarke. “And that’s our goal.”