Intel announced late last year that its Intel Labs had established the Interconnect Integrated Photonics Research Center, bringing together photonics and circuit researchers from several universities to drive research and development efforts in integrated photonics for data centers, paving the way for the next decade of computing interconnects. This follows Intel’s stated long-term vision to integrate photonics with low-cost, high-volume integrated silicon production.
As Intel’s old rival, AMD also seems to be setting its sights on photonics technology. an AMD patent filed in 2020 describes a system that allows photonics-based communication systems to be connected directly to the chip. The use of light for transmission will apparently be faster and will not produce resistive losses in the medium like copper, which can improve energy efficiency and will ultimately improve the performance of information transmission, but also improve latency and power consumption, bringing better scalability.
AMD does not describe in detail in the patent, but only recounts the manufacturing steps required for a chip that can handle photonic-based input and output. Apparently, such a chip is different from today’s common chips and would integrate photonic chips and silicon chips on an organic redistribution layer (ORDL).
AMD’s patent indicates a search for new ways to improve scalability beyond what traditional semiconductors allow. In recent years, the gains from increased transistor density are declining, but the demand for computing has not abated, and designers have been forced to look for a variety of more creative ways to improve performance, particularly by increasing energy efficiency.
Today’s traditional air-cooled cooling methods have basically reached their limits, and Intel has recently been promoting research into submerged liquid cooling technology. The introduction of photonics can be in the case of no additional heat, while improving the speed of information transfer and energy efficiency, looks like a more secure and realistic solution.