An optical interconnect consists of a modulator that converts electrical signals into optical ones, and a photodetector, which does the reverse. Current iterations feature modulators made of silicon and photodetectors made of germanium. Intel recently announced plans to use such technology and begin manufacturing a product it calls “silicon photonics,” for use in data centers (see “Intel’s Laser Chips Could Make Data Centers Run Better”).
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Computer chips that use light, instead of electrons, to move data between electronic components and to other chips could be essential for more efficient supercomputers and data centers. Several industrial research labs are working toward such optical interconnects that rely on germanium to turn light into ones and zeros. But recent research suggests that graphene devices could be far better and cheaper.
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