A team of scientists lead by the Australian National University has developed what they call a "nano device" for gaming consoles, a device that they claim can speed up the rendering of consoles and graphics workstations.
The new invention, according to ANU senior researcher Professor Dragomir Neshev, is a tiny antenna 100 times thinner than a human hair. The professor says that the device can accelerate "the exchange of data between the multiple processors in the console".
If implemented by the major platforms, it could go some way to resolving one of the biggest issues modern gaming consoles face: underpowered CPUs. The GPU power of consoles has come a long way in recent years, although small form factors and challenges around cooling have meant console CPUs haven't been able to advance quite as far. It's a problem Digital Foundry touched on recently when looking forward to the next generation of consoles.
"Our invention can be used to connect these processors with optical wires that will transmit data between processes thousands of times faster than metal wires," Professor Neshev explained. "This will enable smooth rendering and large-scale parallel computation needed for a good gaming experience."
It's basically a door into the world of optical computing, which computers have been staring at for a little while. The problem behind advancing from copper-bound computers has been three basic issues: power, heat and size. Using optics to transfer information is vastly faster than using electrical signals, but it raises a whole set of problems with transferring information reliably, which in turn increases the heat generated and cooling needed.
The invention was developed in collaboration with Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena at the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, and Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt. The findings were published in the Science Advances journal, and Professor Neshev added that the device could also benefit workstations used for special effects and animation rendering.
Precisely how long it would be before manufacturers could use this new tech, however, is unknown. Given that the processors in the PS4 and Xbox One (along with their higher powered variants) are designed by AMD, or NVIDIA in the Switch's case, any implementation would undoubtedly fall on them. And CPU development is often mapped out years in advance: the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, for instance, are still using the older generation Jaguar APUs from AMD, rather than the newer Ryzen architecture.
I've asked ANU whether the researchers have been in contact with the aforementioned companies, and if there's anything interesting to report there I'll let you know. My suspicion is that any advancement is probably well beyond the reach of the next generation. And probably the one after that. But the world of optical computing is a lot closer today than it ever has been - and once we're there, we might finally be in a place to restart Moore's Law.
Update: When asked if the researchers had gotten in touch with any of the CPU manufacturers yet, Professor Dragomir Neshev replied with an update:
Under the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS), we have worked with researchers from Intel and have established some of the industry requirements for possible translation of the technology to real world manufacturing. For example, our device is built on a silicon platform which is the system of choice for optical interconnects used by Intel, IBM and other industry leaders. So the technology is applicable for integration with large-scale chip production.
Some further steps still need to be made to achieve complete CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) capability, and we are open for discussions with the industry on the implementation of our nanoantennas in the silicon photonic industry.