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Intel claims record with optical CMOS device

Posted: 11 Dec 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:avalanche photo detector  CMOS  optical component  silicon photonics 

Intel Corp. researchers have demonstrated a photo detector built in CMOS that the company says is the highest performance optical component of its class to date. The avalanche photodetector (APD) described in a paper in the journal Nature Photonics shows the way to designs that could increase the distance or lower power and cost of optical links, Intel said.

The research effort is one of many small steps forward in silicon photonics in recent years from Intel. The company aims to commercialise some of its work in PC platforms in as little as two to three years, said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's photonics lab who reported the advance.

Intel's APD achieved a gain-bandwidth product of 340 GHz, higher than any previous device made in any process technology. The metric is a broad measure of the component's signal amplification capability at any given speed.

"This is the first time a silicon photonics device has a better performance than a III-V device, in this case specifically indium phosphide," said Paniccia. "We started with goal of getting [in silicon] 90 per cent of the performance of [more] exotic materials with an order of magnitude less cost, but we now have a silicon devoice that is better performance than anything measured in indium phosphide," he added.

APDs are primarily used today in relatively costly modules enabling optical links at 10Gbpsecond over tens of kilometers. The Intel APD could support devices with throughput up to 40Gbps at an order of magnitude less cost, Intel said.

An APD amplifies an optical signal by creating tens or hundreds of electron pairs for every photon. The Intel device is something of a hybrid. It uses silicon as an amplifying material, however it also uses a layer of germanium as a light absorption region to allow operating in infrared wavelengths.

"The goal is to put as much of the photonics in silicon as possible, and I think we can do everything except the laser which requires a tiny piece of germanium," said Paniccia. "So it will be a hybrid device in future with a little indium phosphide as a light source," he added.

Intel worked on the project with two researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara who held the previous record for an APD. "This APD utilises the inherently superior characteristics of silicon for high-speed amplification to create world-class optical technology," said John Bowers, one of the UCSB professors, speaking in a press statement.

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