25 January 2011

IMEC launches research program on high-bandwidth optical I/O

The IMEC research center in Leuven, Belgium has announced the launch of a new industrial affiliation program (IIAP) on high-bandwidth optical input/output (I/O). The primary objective, which is part of IMEC’s research platform on deep-submicron CMOS scaling, is to explore the use of optical solutions for realizing high-bandwidth I/O between CMOS chips.

According to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), the aggregate data rate for off-chip communication is expected to exceed 100Tb/s by 2020. However, no known manufacturable solution for achieving such bandwidth density is currently available. Silicon photonics has been identified as a prime candidate to deliver a technology solution for enabling cost-effective short-range optical links. The main benefits of silicon-based optical interconnects are their high speed, compact footprint, low power consumption and low cost, enabling the realization of a scalable interconnect solution. Moreover, the compatibility with existing CMOS processing infrastructure as well as the possibility of co-integration with CMOS circuits are additional key assets of silicon photonics technology.

IMEC and its associated lab INTEC at Ghent University have a proven track record over the past ten years in demonstrating the outstanding performance of silicon-based optical devices for high-speed data transmission, using silicon-on-insulator (SOI) substrates. IMEC's new optical I/O program builds on this expertise and aims to further develop a silicon-photonics solution for addressing the upcoming scaling challenges in interconnecting CMOS chips, in close collaboration with IMEC’s industrial partners.

The program includes a two-fold path-finding effort. First, the complete electrical-to-optical-to-electrical (E-O-E) transmission path will be modeled for various technological implementations and benchmarked against the requirements for various applications, as well as against existing solutions. This benchmarking effort will focus on optimizing bandwidth density, power consumption, thermal robustness and cost at the system level.

Second, demonstrators of the full optical link will be realized in silicon, including all required components such as optical modulators, germanium-based photodetectors, and thermally robust optical multiplexers, as well as their CMOS-based driving and receiving circuits.

The optical I/O IIAP is part of IMEC’s core program in which it works together with leading IC companies on future CMOS technologies. In this framework, core partners will actively participate in the IIAP at IMEC. Such on-site participation enables partner companies to have early access to new technology insights, processes and equipment, says the research center.

Tags: IMEC High-bandwidth optical I/O Silicon photonics

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