Modeling, Optimization and Power Efficiency Comparison of High-speed Inter-chip Electrical and Optical Interconnect Architectures in Nanometer CMOS Technologies
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Inter-chip input-output (I/O) communication bandwidth demand, which rapidly scaled with integrated circuit scaling, has leveraged equalization techniques to operate reliably on band-limited channels at additional power and area complexity. High-bandwidth inter-chip optical interconnect architectures have the potential to address this increasing I/O bandwidth. Considering future tera-scale systems, power dissipation of the high-speed I/O link becomes a significant concern. This work presents a design flow for the power optimization and comparison of high-speed electrical and optical links at a given data rate and channel type in 90 nm and 45 nm CMOS technologies. The electrical I/O design framework combines statistical link analysis techniques, which are used to determine the link margins at a given bit-error rate (BER), with circuit power estimates based on normalized transistor parameters extracted with a constant current density methodology to predict the power-optimum equalization architecture, circuit style, and transmit swing at a given data rate and process node for three different channels. The transmitter output swing is scaled to operate the link at optimal power efficiency. Under consideration for optical links are a near-term architecture consisting of discrete vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSEL) with p-i-n photodetectors (PD) and three long-term integrated photonic architectures that use waveguide metal-semiconductor-metal (MSM) photodetectors and either electro-absorption modulator (EAM), ring resonator modulator (RRM), or Mach-Zehnder modulator (MZM) sources. The normalized transistor parameters are applied to jointly optimize the transmitter and receiver circuitry to minimize total optical link power dissipation for a specified data rate and process technology at a given BER. Analysis results shows that low loss channel characteristics and minimal circuit complexity, together with scaling of transmitter output swing, allows electrical links to achieve excellent power efficiency at high data rates. While the high-loss channel is primarily limited by severe frequency dependent losses to 12 Gb/s, the critical timing path of the first tap of the decision feedback equalizer (DFE) limits the operation of low-loss channels above 20 Gb/s. Among the optical links, the VCSEL-based link is limited by its bandwidth and maximum power levels to a data rate of 24 Gb/s whereas EAM and RRM are both attractive integrated photonic technologies capable of scaling data rates past 30 Gb/s achieving excellent power efficiency in the 45 nm node and are primarily limited by coupling and device insertion losses. While MZM offers robust operation due to its wide optical bandwidth, significant improvements in power efficiency must be achieved to become applicable for high density applications.