COM­PUT­ING AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT

HWM (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - by Ko­hWanzi

Think the lat­est flash drives are fast? Think again. Re­searchers have cre­ated the first op­ti­cal-only chip that can per­ma­nently store data, a de­vel­op­ment that could in time en­able the pro­duc­tion of stor­age devices that would make SSDs look like they were from the Stone Age.

The re­search team solved the prob­lem of per­ma­nent stor­age us­ing a fa­mil­iar – al­beit even old-fash­ioned light­based medium – DVDs. Re-writable DVDs and CDs save data us­ing GST, an al­loy made from ger­ma­nium, tel­lurium and an­ti­mony. GST changes struc­ture when hit by a laser, and the re­searchers built a chip us­ing waveg­uide tech­nol­ogy that di­rects light through chan­nels etched into a sil­i­con-nitride ma­te­rial.

The chip it­self was coated with nanoscale GST, then blasted by a high-in­ten­sity laser through the waveg­uide chan­nels. This al­tered the GST’s con­sis­tent crys­talline struc­ture and made it more akin to an amor­phous blob, a change that was then de­tected by an­other low-in­ten­sity laser and in­ter­preted as data.

The process is cycli­cal, and when hit by an­other high­in­ten­sity laser, the GST re­verts to its crys­talline state. By vary­ing the in­ten­sity and wave­length of the lasers, the team was able to con­trol the ex­tent of each GST patch that was ei­ther crys­talline or amor­phous. This en­abled them to store data in up to eight dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions, a huge boost in the amount of data that each spot can store.

While you shouldn’t ex­pect light-based drives any time soon, the team says that the tech­nol­ogy al­ready ex­ists to make th­ese op­ti­cal chips com­mer­cially fea­si­ble. They even have ap­pli­ca­tions be­yond stor­age – if paired with pho­tonic logic chips, we could one day see com­put­ers up to 100 times faster than mod­ern ma­chines.

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