Intel's answer to need for speed
New laser technology could change the way people compute, connect to the Internet.

NEW YORK ( -- Intel Corp. unveiled new laser technology Monday - a technological advance whose impact will be felt beyond the semiconductor industry, analysts said.

The nation's No. 1 chipmaker, along with researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, have developed a way to use laser light rather than wires to send information between chips. (Full story.)


The use of laser light will speed up the transmission rates between chips, making for higher-speed networks and computers. Lasers are commonly used in expensive fiber optic networks to transfer information at the speed of light, but by embedding them into silicon, Intel is working to to mass produce these chips at a lower cost.

Intel (Charts) said its hybrid silicon laser is "far from being a commercial product," and analysts said it could take as many as five years before the product makes it to market.

But by converging silicon chips and optical lasers, Intel is paving the way for higher-performance chips that could have significant impact on businesses and consumers, industry experts said.

Servers and data centers. Since the technology is new and pricing will probably be high initially, it'll really be high-end applications that are the first adopters of the technology, according to Hans Mosemann, a consultant who tracks the semiconductor industry.

"The first places you're likely to see this technology used are in high-performance applications like servers," he said. Servers are computers that process requests for information from other computers. They're used to run corporate networks and also power Web searches and other requests sent over the Internet.

Data centers have been booming as more services and applications are moved online. Today's servers have to access lots of information, and getting that information can be time consuming. The ability to access data at the speed of light could have a significant impact on the architecture of these storage farms and data servers, Mosemann said.

The networked home. The development of higher-speed networks will also transform the way people connect to the Internet. "It's a scalable and inexpensive way to upgrade the Internet backbone," Martin Reynolds, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner, said.

This eventually will allow people to do much more when they're connected to the Internet. For instance, more network bandwidth will make it possible for people to receive TV content from anywhere in the world. Higher-speed networks will also create demand for more connected machines and drive people to buy more computers, Reynolds added.

Consumer devices. Further down the road, the chips will show up in a variety of devices, according to Roger Kay, president of technology consulting firm Endpoint Technology Associates.

Graphics-heavy applications such as gaming could benefit. Souped-up graphics processors produced by companies like ATI (Charts) and Nvidia (Charts) have already hit a wall in terms of performance, Kay said. But laser-embedded chips will be able to handle much more computationally-intense processes.

"Consumers are going to want to have this technology to run videos and a lot of other high-resolution digital media," he said.

Behold the server farm!

Intel's worst nightmare Top of page

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