IBM and Toshiba unveil tech to speed up data transfer and reduce power drains

By Peter Gothard
10 Dec 2012 View Comments
Memory module

Light - not electric signals - is the future of information transfer, says IBM as it reveals a "major advance" in chip technology.

Calling the tech "silicon nanophotonics", IBM reckons it integrates optical components alongside electrical circuits on a single chip, all with sub-100nm (nanometre) components.

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"This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM," said Dr. John E. Kelly, senior vice president and director of IBM research. "This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications."

According to the company, these applications point heavily towards the big data trend.

"Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyse, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as Big Data," said Kelly. "Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to Big Data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers."

The size and speed reductions on highly conductive hardware are encouraging enough, but Toshiba's tech news of the day strengthens what seems to be promising times ahead for mobile computing.

Announcing today that a version of its MRAM ("magnetoresistive random access memory") has been developed to work in mobile CPUs, Toshiba is basically outlining plans to drastically increase the battery life of smartphone and tablet technology.

"Recently, the amount of SRAM used in mobile application processors has been increasing, and this has increased the power usage," Toshiba spokesman Atsushi Ido told IDG News Service.

Cutting this power consumption has been the gist of the company's research, resulting in a technology, says Toshiba, that uses magnetic storage to keep track of bits of data, as opposed to current RAM technology that uses electric charges. With magnetic storage being non-volatile, Toshiba says it can store data even when the power has been cut off - unlike historically electrically charged RAM.

While this usually requires more current to power, Toshiba's mobile version uses smaller elements to improve the spinning of electrons, reducing the charge required to write data.

It's all very interesting stuff, and could provide the kick mobile hardware needs in the next year to stand a chance of replacing the trusty desktop.

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