HP Turns to Lasers to Cut Copper From Chips

HP is trying to eliminate copper on semiconductors to make them run faster, and today the company is gathering about 150 researchers at its Palo Alto campus to push lasers as a means to do this. If it and chip manufacturers such as Intel, IBM and Luxtera succeed, the chip firms will follow in the telcos footsteps, turning to light to transmit information quickly.

Only, in this instance, the light would provide short-haul transport on a chipset measured in nanometers or millimeters rather than over distances of miles. Lasers could replace the copper connecting multiple processing engines inside a chip, but could also act as interconnects between multiple chips on a board. Light pulses provided by a laser could reduce the bill of materials (if adapted for silicon), power consumption and solve some of the problems associated with following Moore’s Law because it reduces some of the materials needed on a chip. Improved chips mean more computing power and a faster, more dynamic web.

Such efforts are in the early stages with real products likely 10 years out. However, it isn’t so far-fetched. Already Infinera, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company whose products are sold to telecommunications companies, makes an optical chip, but it builds its chips on a far more expensive substrate than a silicon wafer.