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New Data Transfer System Is 10 Times Faster Than USB and Uses Polymer Cable As Thin a Strand of Hair

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Researchers have developed a data transmission system that can pair a high-frequency silicon chip with a thin hair and a polymer cable. Image source: Provided by researchers, edited by MIT News Service

Researchers have developed a data transfer system that transfers information 10 times faster than USB. The new link pairs a high-frequency silicon chip with a thin hair polymer cable. The system could one day improve the energy efficiency of data centers and reduce the load on spacecraft rich in electronic equipment.

This research was presented at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference in February. The main author is Jack Holloway '03, MNG '04, and he completed his PhD in 2007.

The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) last fall and currently works at Raytheon. Co-authors include Ruonan Han, EECS associate professor and Holloway doctoral advisor, and Intel senior researcher Georgios Dogiamis.

The need for clear data exchange is obvious, especially in the age of remote work. "The amount of information shared between computer chips (cloud computing, Internet, big data) has surged. And many things happen through traditional copper wires." Holloway said. But copper wires (such as those in USB or HDMI cables) are very power hungry-especially when dealing with heavy data loads. "There is a fundamental trade-off between the energy of combustion and the rate of information exchange." Despite the growing demand for fast data transmission (over 100 gigabits per second) through pipelines longer than one meter, Holloway said the typical solution It is a copper cable with "increasing volume and higher cost".

An alternative to copper wire is fiber optic cable, although it has its own problems. Copper wires use electrical signals, while optical fibers use photons. In this way, the optical fiber can transmit data quickly with almost no energy consumption. But silicon computer chips usually do not work well with photons, which makes the interconnection between optical cables and computers a challenge. Holloway said: "There is currently no way to effectively generate, amplify or detect photons in silicon." "There are various expensive and complex integration schemes, but from an economic point of view, this is not a good solution. "So the researchers developed their own.

The team’s new link takes advantage of copper cables and fiber optic ducts while eliminating their drawbacks. Dogiamis said: "This is a good example of a complementary solution." Their conduits are made of plastic polymers, so they are lighter than traditional copper cables and may be less expensive to manufacture. However, when the polymer link operates with terahertz electromagnetic signals, it is much more energy efficient than copper in terms of transmitting high data loads. Holloway said that the efficiency of the new link is comparable to that of optical fiber, but it has a key advantage: "It can be directly compatible with silicon chips without any special manufacturing."

The team designed this low-cost chip to pair with polymer catheters. Generally, it is difficult for silicon chips to work at sub-Hz frequencies. However, the team’s new chip generates high-frequency signals with enough power to transmit data directly into the catheter. The researchers say that the clean connection from the silicon chip to the catheter means that the entire system can be manufactured in a standard, cost-effective way.

The new connection also exceeds copper in size. "Our cable has a cross-sectional area of ​​0.4 mm times a quarter of a millimeter," Han said. "So, it's small, like a strand of hair." Despite its small size, because it sends signals through three different parallel channels (separated by frequency), it can carry a lot of data. The total bandwidth of the link is 105 gigabits per second, which is nearly an order of magnitude faster than copper-based USB cables. Dogiamis said that this cable can "solve bandwidth challenges because we see this trend is moving towards more and more data."

Han hopes to tie them together in future work to make polymer catheters faster. He said: "Then the data rate will exceed the chart." "It might be 1 TB per second, but it's still cheap."

Researchers suggest that "data-intensive" applications such as server farms may be early adopters of the new link because they can greatly reduce the high energy consumption requirements of the data center. This link may also be a key solution for the aerospace and automotive industries, which place great emphasis on small and lightweight equipment. One day, due to the simplicity and speed of the link, the link can replace consumer electronics cables in homes and offices. Holloway said: "Compared with the [copper or fiber] method, its cost is much lower, and the bandwidth is much wider, and the loss is lower than traditional copper solutions." "So, full high-five."

This research was partly funded by Intel, Raytheon, Naval Research Laboratory, and Office of Naval Research.

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