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Monday, March 24, 2008

Wires? No, Laser Beams

Sun Microsystems is trying to do for computing what all the king’s horses and men failed to do for Humpty Dumpty. For decades, the semiconductor industry has broken silicon wafers into smaller chips to improve manufacturing yields.

Now Sun has found a way to reconnect the chips so they can communicate with each other at such high speeds that computer designers can build a new generation of computers that are faster, more energy-efficient and more compact.

The computer maker, which is based in Santa Clara, Calif., plans to announce on Monday that it has received a $44 million contract from the Pentagon to explore the high-risk idea of replacing the wires between computer chips with laser beams.

The technology, part of a field of computer science known as silicon photonics, would eradicate the most daunting bottleneck facing today’s supercomputer designers: moving information rapidly to solve problems that require hundreds or thousands of processors.

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