Imec is creating a new industrial research program on high-bandwidth optical input/output (I/O). The goal of the new program is to explore the use of optical solutions for realizing high-bandwidth I/O between CMOS chips. The affiliation program is a part of imec’s research platform on deep-submicron CMOS scaling. In close collaboration with imec’s industrial partners, the optical I/O program will develop a silicon-photonics solution for addressing the upcoming scaling challenges in interconnecting CMOS chips.
By 2020, the aggregate data rate for off-chip communication is expected to exceed 100Tb/s. Currently there isn’t a 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, which enable the realization of a scalable interconnect solution. In addition, the compatibility with existing CMOS processing infrastructure as well as the possibility of co-integration with CMOS circuits are additional important assets of the silicon photonics technology.
Imec’s new optical I/O program is 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.
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