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Photon processors are one practical use of the emerging field of photonics. With photonics, light is used as a medium to carry information. Photonics operate at frequencies on the order of hundreds of terahertz.
Intel has begun working on all-silicon lasers which they hope will soon be able to utilize light (rather than electrical currents) to move data around. A number of start-ups are developing various technologies to take advantage of the situation once the mainstream market makes the shift.
Luxtera, one of these startups, has slated production for an optical modulator which will be used to turn electrons into photons for use in photon processors. They predict processors that rapidly reach speeds of up to 10-GHz, ten times the speeds Intel has discussed for its latest optical modulators.
Luxtera has begun working with microprocessor producer Freescale Semiconductor on their technology, and Freescale has already rolled out some engineering samples. These samples utilize a similar technology used in the G4 microprocessor (the 130-nm SOI process). Members of their board include Nobel Prize winner Arno Penzias and Eli Yablonovitch (the UCLA professor who developed photoelectric crystals).
As traditional forms of processors reach a necessary limit on bandwidth, photon processors offer a way to not only break, but truly shatter these limitations. Currently costs are quite high, but with all of the industry's major players heavily invested in the development of photon processing, prices will undoubtedly drop quite rapidly once production begins.
Initially it is likely that photon processors will be utilized only in high-end supercomputers to produce virtually unbreakable cryptography, and in processor intensive rendering for big-budget movies and game sequences. Quickly this technology should trickle down to the consumer level, however, and we can hope to see 10-GHz processors at an affordable cost by 2010-2015. Applications are virtually limitless for such technology.