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Researcher Working on Energy-Efficient Light Chips

Light chips being developed by researchers could soon lead to more energy-efficient data centers through existing manufacturing technology. A top team of researchers at MIT, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Boulder have teamed together to create the chip that could end up helping the environment tremendously.

The way it works is by having a microprocessor that uses optical connections instead of electrical wires to shuttle data around. While it may sound simple in theory, the process of actually creating one that works has stumped chip designers for years. The electronic-optical microprocessor will integrate more than 70 million transistors and 850 optical components. The system uses optical fibers, transmitters, and receivers to send data between a processor chip and a memory chip. When tested, it ran a graphics program to display and manipulate a 3-D image, which is an action that would need to utilize the internal optical connections to collect data from memory and follow instructions.

The optical connections can carry more data in a more efficient manner while using the same amount of power as an electrical one. Current models get blown out of the water by the new prototype, which can transfer data at a blinding 300 gigabits per second per square millimeter.

These developments are significant due to the high energy consumption of many data centers. Most of these facilities consume the same amount of electricity as a small town in order to remain operational, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions spewing into the environment. It is estimated that around a quarter of energy used in data center servers is spent transferring data through the processor, memory, and networking cards. With the new light chips, the carbon footprint of these technological warehouses may be greatly reduced.

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