The Silicon Solution

In the future, ordinary silicon chips will move data using light rather than electrons, unleashing nearly limitless bandwidth and revolutionizing computing

13 min read
Photo: Joson/Zefa/Corbis
Photo: Joson/Zefa/Corbis

The relentless push of Moore's Law has allowed data rates to soar, Internet traffic to swell, and wired and wireless technology to cover continents. Increasingly, we all expect fast, free-flowing bandwidth whenever and wherever we connect with the world. Within the next decade, the circuitry embodied by a rack of today's servers, able to churn through billions of bits of data per second and handle all the data-processing needs of a small company, will fit neatly on a single silicon chip half the size of a postage stamp.

But there's a problem. As newer, faster microprocessors roll out, the copper connections that feed those processors within computers and servers will prove inadequate to handle the crushing tides of data. At data rates approaching 10 billion bits per second, microscopic imperfections in the copper or irregularities in a printed-circuit board begin to weaken and distort the signals--even traveling distances as short as 50 centimeters can be a problem. New board materials and new techniques could provide some additional performance gains, but only at increased cost.

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NVIDIA

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