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A microprocessor that uses optical connections instead of electrical wires to shuttle data around has long been the dream of chip designers, but the attempt to fabricate one has frustrated them for years.

Now a prototype described in the journal Nature offers a promising and practical approach. The electronic-optical microprocessor, developed by a group of researchers at MIT, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, integrates over 70 million transistors and 850 optical components. The system uses optical fibers, transmitters, and receivers to send data between a processor chip and a memory chip. In a demo, it runs a graphics program to display and manipulate a 3-D image, a task that requires using the internal optical connections to fetch data from memory and run instructions.

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