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How to Transmit Light Instead of Electricity on PC Boards

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Elizabeth M
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Informative
Elizabeth M   3/14/2013 12:46:54 PM
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Informative article on something I didn't know much about. As usual, Ann, you write about complexity in a way even non-technical people can understand.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/14/2013 1:25:11 PM
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Thanks, Elizabeth. Summarizing these technologies can be quite a challenge. This one is especially exciting because it's been worked on for so long, and has great promise.

Charles Murray
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Re: Informative
Charles Murray   3/14/2013 3:37:12 PM
Great story, Ann. Reading it -- especially the part about the cost advantages -- makes me wonder what's holding this technology back. Sure seems like there should be a market for it.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Informative
Nancy Golden   3/15/2013 9:30:03 AM
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I agree Charles - we have been hearing of this technology for years - transmitting light to carry data in computers. It's nice to see someone is working on a solution and it is starting to become something that may be marketable in the near future...

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/15/2013 12:25:04 PM
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Nancy, I first heard of switching photons instead of electrons about 15 years ago in a venture capitalist meeting about a new tech, I forget which one or from which company. I was electrified--or perhaps I should say, photofied.



Nancy Golden
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Re: Informative
Nancy Golden   3/15/2013 3:40:04 PM
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I remember hearing about a computer that was built completely with fiber optics back in the late 90's. I think it was designed by the R&D department of one of the major tech universities. We were "photofied" as well!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/15/2013 12:23:53 PM
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Thanks, Chuck. Looks to me like some patient, careful R&D on the part of two big companies that know how to do patient, careful R&D and have the deep pockets for it. Plus how to come up with a practical solution that addresses all the challenges. I don't see that very often.

Mydesign
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Re: Informative
Mydesign   3/15/2013 5:20:15 AM
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Ann, there is no doubt that light can carry more information at a higher speed. Moreover, I think signal losses are also very less and what about the cost factor when compare with the conventional method of data transfer.

Pubudu
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Re: Informative
Pubudu   3/16/2013 3:14:18 AM
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Ann Very interesting article, there will be no doubt in future when it comes to the data transfer

But will this be ok for the long distant data transfer and cost-effective for the general purpose data transfer?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/18/2013 12:01:11 PM
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Pubudu, thanks for the comments. Could you clarify your question? Optical fiber is already being used for general-purpose data transfer at longer distances.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Informative
Jack Rupert, PE   3/26/2013 3:09:53 PM
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Interesting that this idea is coming back into the forefront.  I remember when I was back in college I prepared a speech on optical computing.  Haven't heard much about it since...

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2013 12:23:42 PM
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Jack, I don't mean to pry, but would you tell us what decade that was, or how many years ago? I'm curious because I first heard of this idea in the mid-late 90s. Did you encounter this idea before or after that?

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Informative
Jack Rupert, PE   3/27/2013 2:43:37 PM
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Ann - That would have been in the early 90's.  I'm thinking it was probably 1991 - no later than 1992.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/28/2013 11:36:42 AM
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Jack, thanks for the answer. Very interesting, since that's quite close to when I heard about it.

78RPM
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Re: Informative
78RPM   3/14/2013 10:53:16 PM
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Hmm. Maybe Corning is less boring an investment than we thought.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Informative
Ann R. Thryft   3/18/2013 4:15:23 PM
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78RPM, this is Dow Corning, not Corning, in case you were confusing the two. It's easy to do.

Mydesign
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Mode of Data transfer
Mydesign   3/15/2013 5:17:10 AM
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"Although fiber optics has replaced copper wires for communications connections outside the system, the time has come to move those speed advantages inside to board and chip data interconnects."

Ann you are right, in most of the high speed data connectivity, all copper/coaxial cables are replaced by optical fibers. I think the next stage is transferring data through laser or light.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Mode of Data transfer
Ann R. Thryft   3/15/2013 12:24:28 PM
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Mydesign, the idea is definitely revolutionary, although it isn't new, as we see from 10 years of research. But copper doesn't complete disappear from the board--not yet, anyway.

Mydesign
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Re: Mode of Data transfer
Mydesign   3/21/2013 11:40:14 PM
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"the idea is definitely revolutionary, although it isn't new, as we see from 10 years of research. But copper doesn't complete disappear from the board--not yet, anyway."

Ann, copper cannot be replacing immediately, but i think one day it has to happen.

Charles Murray
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Re: Mode of Data transfer
Charles Murray   3/15/2013 6:19:34 PM
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You're right about optical fiber, Mydesign. Copper is being replaced by optical fiber for high-def video, even in such places as surgical suites.

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1395&doc_id=239416

Mydesign
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Re: Mode of Data transfer
Mydesign   3/21/2013 11:44:55 PM
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"You're right about optical fiber, Mydesign. Copper is being replaced by optical fiber for high-def video, even in such places as surgical suites."

Charles, thanks for the link. Would you think that in future these optical fibre can replaced by some other transfer mechanisms like laser or Ultra sonic waves etc.

William K.
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Optical interconnects.
William K.   3/15/2013 10:49:51 PM
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It will be very interesting to see the completely new set of problems that will come up if this idea ever is used. New problems to make sure we engineers never run out of problems to solve.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   3/18/2013 12:00:32 PM
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William, I agree. Even after 10 years of problem-solving, I bet there will be lots left for engineers to do on the board for some time to come.



Mydesign
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Mydesign   3/22/2013 12:02:22 AM
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"It will be very interesting to see the completely new set of problems that will come up if this idea ever is used. New problems to make sure we engineers never run out of problems to solve."

William, that's one of the basic responsibility of an engineer other than R&D. I believes that without problems, there are no roles for engineers.



William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   3/22/2013 3:05:11 PM
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@ mydesign, my point is that for those very short distances on a backplane the optical connection woul;d be way more bother than it would be worth. For larger distances, several feet or more, it makes some sense, but for board-to-board interconnect I see it as a waste of effort and materials.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2013 12:05:29 PM
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I think there's some confusion about the nature of optical connections being proposed. The whole point of this new technology is that, if you used optical *fibers*, you need so many at the board-to-board, chip-to-board and chip-to-chip levels that you can't physically get them into such a small space: they don't scale like transistors do. But if you implement them in waveguides--i.e., embed optical connections in thin sheets of silicone via standard semiconductor manufacturing methods for laying down circuits--you can get the size down for placing on, or integrating with, boards. The researchers specifically targeted this smaller, chip-to-board scale first, and are also proposing to extend it to board-to-board connections.

Mydesign
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Mydesign   3/27/2013 12:40:07 AM
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"those very short distances on a backplane the optical connection woul;d be way more bother than it would be worth. For larger distances, several feet or more, it makes some sense, but for board-to-board interconnect I see it as a waste of effort and materials."

Willam, am agreeing with you. For shorter distance coaxial cables are better than optical fiber because attenuation losses are less in shorter distance. Moreover inter connectivity is difficult with fiber optics.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   3/27/2013 12:26:12 PM
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Mydesign, the whole point of using this new optical technology--which does not rely on bulky fibers--is that communication speeds are far outpacing coax in high-end computing, and will do so relatively soon, at the current speed increases, in computers used by the rest of us.

William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   3/27/2013 10:00:29 PM
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It still does not sound like a useful technology, just because of having to convert from and then back to an electrical signal. That takes up both space and power, and then the losses are greater in any sort of optical medium than they are in an equal run of copper, correctly designed and built. Besides that, it certainly seems that the accuracy of alignment needed for these optial interconnects is going to be a bit tighter than for electrcal connections. 

It still looks a whole lot like somebodie's neat solution searching intensely for a suitabl problem. 

OF course, if it does turn out to be a useful idea, then we will see it in industry, someplace. If not, then we won't. But I am NOT going to invest in that company.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   3/28/2013 11:37:51 AM
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William, sounds like you're unclear on the waveguide concept. I suggest you read up on them, and specifically on this board-level one. Wikipedia has a good article on the general subject. The "suitable problem" already exists and the R&D has been going on for some time to implement these at the board level. There's also a fair amount of detail in the links we gave in this article.



William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   3/29/2013 9:18:03 AM
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Ann,

I am a bit familiar with radio frequency waveguides, but not optical ones, other than fiber optics. So thanks for the links. 

But it still seems that there are very few applications that would benefit from the very high speed multiple line connections, since it appears that the concept is for these links to carry at least 8-bits wide, and probably 32 0r 64-bit wide data. For single-line interconnections they would probably not be cost effective.

My guess is that the main application would be in medical image processing, which is a growing but rather narrow field. If there are others it would be interesting to hear about them. But computer gaming does not count as a valid application, at least in my book.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   4/1/2013 12:44:18 PM
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William, the article mentions supercomputing and datacenters, not computer gaming, for right-now apps. As a long-time student of comms technologies, I know that what starts at the high end--such as those two apps--ends up in the PC, at least as far as data transfer speeds are concerned. Remember when 100 MBps was fast? In the datacenter?

William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   4/1/2013 9:35:05 PM
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Ann, you may be correct about data centerapplications, but i suspect that the market for computer gaming toys is much larger. Of course, it will all get down to the ratio of cost-to benefits, won't it?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   4/2/2013 12:04:19 PM
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William, I'm not sure where computer gaming as an app for this technology comes from. The "apps" are more in classes of hardware--supercomputers, routers/switches, PCs--than in uses of the hardware. If you mean the technology may eventually come to gaming platforms, I agree--but then, it will also come to PCs and other consumer computing devices. And of course, price/performance tradeoffs will be one determining factor. But, in comms and connectors, that's not enough: market saturation will rule the day.

William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   4/2/2013 9:10:35 PM
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Ann, sorry if I caused confusion by using the word "application". My usage relates to what the word was taken to mean in the past, instead of a corrupted abbreviation for the phrase "application program." Lazy-mouthed slang terms seldom are able to convey a specific meaning accurately, it seems. 

I am aware that language does indeed change with usage, but hearing a slang term used to reference somethoing that many people really don't have any understanding of what they are talking about does become rather boring. At least I find repetition without understanding to be boring.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   4/3/2013 12:38:48 PM
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How right you are about the uses of the term "application." And slang, too, although it's fun, often is confusing. However, I was not using "application" to mean a program, or class of programs, but a class of uses--for instance if I write "aerospace applications," this does not mean aerospace software, but various uses in the aerospace industry.

William K.
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Re: Optical interconnects.
William K.   4/3/2013 7:57:01 PM
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OK, Ann. It still seems that the largest market for high performance computing is in the games area. Of course I realize that the level of power for games is less than that of the high level scientific computers, but thye sales ratio is quite large.

But your comment about servers does indeed point to an area that I had not considered. So now for a question about the "wide" optical interconnect: would it be point to point, or would it be more like a bus? Point to point between adjacent boards could still be done by some other means, while a bus with multiple sources and multiple listners would be an entirely different realm. Very demanding of precise construction and alignment, and probably susceptible to the same problems that lead to hard drives now using the sata interconnect format.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 12:09:42 PM
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Games may be a large market for high-performance computing, and thus of this technology. But I think what keeps getting lost in this discussion is that high-performance computing will not remain the only stratum where this technology is needed/useful. That's why I said "Remember Ethernet?" to remind us of how those speeds have continued to increase while the need for them has migrated down the performance spectrum. Faster data transfer is and will be needed everywhere, including personal computing devices.

Mydesign
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Re: Optical interconnects.
Mydesign   4/4/2013 1:14:19 AM
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Ann, there is no doubt that optical fibers are good in carrying signals at high speed with minimal loss.

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