IBM has announced that it has developed a chip that makes it easier to shuttle data about via pulses of light instead of using electrical signals.

The firm says it should offer a way to move large amounts of information between processors in computer servers at higher speeds than at present.

One third-party expert said the significance of the innovation was that it was much cheaper than other options.

The team behind the development said that using light, rather than the flow of electrons, to transmit data has two key advantages.

  • Data can be sent longer distances between different parts of a server centre without the risk of losing information.
  • Data transfer speeds are faster as light can be used to carry more information at once through cables.

At present data centres need special equipment to convert the light-encoded data from optical cables into an electricity-based version so that the processors can make use of it.

IBM have made it possible for this conversion process to take place on a computer chip that integrates optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on the same piece of silicon, and can be mass produced at a relatively cheap cost.

Details of the development are to be presented at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco later.

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