Data transport across short electrical wires is limited by both bandwidth and power density, which creates a performance bottleneck for semiconductor microchips in modern computer systems—from mobile phones to large-scale data centres. These limitations can be overcome by using optical communications based on chip-scale electronic–photonic systems enabled by silicon-based nanophotonic devices. However, combining electronics and photonics on the same chip has proved challenging, owing to microchip manufacturing conflicts between electronics and photonics. Consequently, current electronic–photonic chips are limited to niche manufacturing processes and include only a few optical devices alongside simple circuits. Here we report an electronic–photonic system on a single chip integrating over 70 million transistors and 850 photonic components that work together to provide logic, memory, and interconnect functions. This system is a realization of a microprocessor that uses on-chip photonic devices to directly communicate with other chips using light. To integrate electronics and photonics at the scale of a microprocessor chip, we adopt a ‘zero-change’ approach to the integration of photonics. Instead of developing a custom process to enable the fabrication of photonics, which would complicate or eliminate the possibility of integration with state-of-the-art transistors at large scale and at high yield, we design optical devices using a standard microelectronics foundry process that is used for modern microprocessors. This demonstration could represent the beginning of an era of chip-scale electronic–photonic systems with the potential to transform computing system architectures, enabling more powerful computers, from network infrastructure to data centres and supercomputers.
Chen Sun, Mark T. Wade, Yunsup Lee, Jason S. Orcutt, Luca Alloatti, Michael S. Georgas, Andrew S. Waterman, Jeffrey M. Shainline, Rimas R. Avizienis, Sen Lin, Benjamin R. Moss, Rajesh Kumar, Fabio Pavanello, Amir H. Atabaki, Henry M. Cook, Albert J. Ou, Jonathan C. Leu, Yu-Hsin Chen, Krste Asanovic, Rajeev J. Ram, Milos A. Popovic & Vladimir M. Stojanovic
Published In: Nature