If optical elements are integrated into a standardized CMOS process, this is known as silicon photonics. This technology has been regarded as a beacon of hope for two decades, since it enables processors to communicate with light. Globalfoundries has now succeeded for the first time in being able to manufacture logic, high-frequency circuits and optical converters in a single process.
Silicon Photonics achieves breakthrough
Connecting individual chips together has become a bottleneck in chip manufacturing in recent years, so companies have been looking for another option for some time. This is where Silicon Photonics comes in, which aims to enable communication between processors using light.
The advantage is that, compared to classic electrons, light can transport data over medium and long distances with less loss, faster and with a lower error rate. At the same time, this makes it possible to image multiple bits in parallel thanks to different wavelengths.
Globalfoundries now announces that it is the world’s first manufacturer to be able to produce logic, high-frequency circuits and optical converters in one process. Common 300-mm wafers are used. The manufacturing process goes by the name GF Fotonix and will first be used at the GF Fab 8 in Malta, New York.
What does GF Fotonix do?
GF Fotonix manufactures not only the CMOS components needed for processors and memory, but also high-frequency components and optical parts in a single process. The resulting die can then be directly connected to a fiber that acts as a light guide.
The high-frequency components modulate the data into a 300 GHz signal, while the optical components convert it into light and back again to ensure communication. Compared to classic multi-chip solutions, higher data rates are possible here because everything happens on the same semiconductor.
According to GF, it should be possible to achieve a rate of 0.5 Tbps per fiber. The chiplets themselves communicate at a rate of between 1.6 and 3.2 Tbps with four to eight fibers. Particularly for large data centers and high-performance computers, this technology should mark a major step forward in noticeably increasing the speed of data transmission.
Together with Ansys, Cadence and Synopsys, Globalfoundries will offer the technology in a Process Design Kit (PDK) from April 2022, which will be made available to customers for semiconductor manufacturing.