YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Computers using a new type of chip that integrates both electronics and optics could rival the human brain for speed of thought, U.S. experts say.
IBM unveiled a new type of computer chip Wednesday that integrates both electrical and optical nano-devices on the same piece of silicon, a technology that could make it possible for supercomputers to perform 1 million-trillion calculations, or an exaflop, in a single second, NewScientist.com reported.
A thousand times faster than today's most powerful petaflop machines, such computers would have processing power approaching that of the human brain, IBM researcher William Green said.
A main roadblock to superfast computers is the time needed to transmit large amounts of data between chips, he said.
Optical fibres are much better at doing this than copper wires, but components that convert electrical data into photons tend to only exist in separate off-chip devices, he said.
This means that data still has to flow through slow copper wires to reach them, which creates a bottleneck.
IBM says it has developed a range of tiny "nanophotonic" switches, waveguides, detectors and modulators, all of which are made out of silicon and can be integrated directly into chips.
The same silicon that makes up the electrical circuitry and transistors of the chip can now also be used to convert and convey photons and channel them between chips at high speeds in the computing process.
This could greatly improve the speed and power consumption of computer chips, Hiroshi Mizuta, head of the University of Southampton's Nano Research Group in the United Kingdom, says.
"(Computing) performance is heavily limited by the interconnections," he says.
IBM says the technology could create powerful exaflop supercomputers within the next five years.