HP Sees Light Powered Computer Chips and They're Fast - The UpStream

HP Sees Light Powered Computer Chips and They're Fast

posted Sunday Mar 11, 2012 by Jon Wurm

HP Sees Light Powered Computer Chips and They're Fast

HP is working on a project codenamed "Carona" that focuses on using fiber optic-like technology to address some problems that data centers and supercomputers are facing in terms of scalability and power consumption. Advancements and implementation of this technology could effectively make "electronics" so last MacWorld.

Corona will be a 265 core computer chip manufactured with a 16nm form factor that uses beams of light to connect the cores together. The cores in the chip will be arranged in 64 core clusters and be able to operate at 10 trillion operations per second, allowing the cores to communicate with each other at 20 terabytes per second! The cores would also be able to communicate with external memory at 10 terabytes per second... that's insane. Put 5 of these chips together and you're in the same league with modern supercomputers in terms of computing power. "Integrated photonics" is the key to making Corona a reality by 2017 and it focuses on using a similar technology that exists in telecommunication networks but this has to be adapted for core-to-core communication. This technology is not a reality yet but with chip manufactures shrinking optical communication devices to fit onto chips, the reality is getting closer. According to HP Lab's researcher Marco Fiorentino,

A lot of people have concentrated on individual devices. Now they're starting to build circuits. It's like going from the transistor to the integrated circuit.

Corona would be incredibly fast but how will it help increase scalability and reduce power consumption which are equally important? Read on after the break to find out.

HP isn't the only one looking into integrated photonics technology. According to Lionel Kimerling, an engineering professor at MIT, computer chips that utilize current electronic technologies are at a point where their maximum potential is being reached. While cores have continued to shrink in size adding more than 16 per chip results in some issues with getting them to function as parallel processors. Hence the need for integrated photonics technology.

There's going to be no way to scale performance without some sort of broadcast or near-broadcast capability.

The power required to build a server capable of achieving 10 terabytes per second link between the CPU and memory is estimated to require 160 watts of power but with photonics HP estimates that to be reduced to 6.4 watts which is hugely more efficient. The most pressing reason companies have for upgrading there current servers every 3 years or so has to do with increases in power efficiency but at 6.4 watts they could probably hold out a little longer. The biggest roadblock to delivering these light-powered chips by 2017 is figuring out how to make light on the chip using on-chip lasers. If that problem can be solved then we will be on our way toward a big shift in how technology of the near future will function, which is pretty exciting!


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