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A superhighway for channeling data.

A superhighway for channeling data

Transmitting vast quantities of data over a conventional cable link from a high-speed computer to another computer or to a display terminal is like trying to funnel traffic on a superhighway across a one-lane bridge. Inevitably, a traffic jam results, considerably slowing the transfer of data. To circumvent this bottleneck, researchers are now developing a new, computer-to-computer link capable of carrying as many as 1,600 million bits of data per second.

The new "high-speed channel" was originally developed by Don Tolmie and his colleagues at the Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory. "We wanted to look at data in a movie fashion," says Tolmie, "and to do that you need very high data rates." For example, a single picture consisting of a 1,000-by-1,000 array of points, or pixels, with each point represented by 8 bits of color information would by itself take up 8 million bits. To create a movie running at a rate of 30 pictures per second requires a flow of at least 240 million bits per second.

"Computers that can generate data at these speeds are just now becoming available," says Tolmie. And a few manufacturers are already putting custom-built communications channels into their computers to handle high data rates. But what's needed, he says, is a standard link that allows any two computers to be connected -- in the same way that just about any personal computer can now be tied to any printer using a standard cable. The Los Alamos invention, with some modifications, is likely to be adopted as a computer industry standard by the end of this year.

The Los Alamos channel is essentially a package of wires and integrated-circuit chips that distribute and control the flow of electrical pulses. The new design allows more electronic traffic to travel along wider, shorter routes than in previously built communications links. A cable carries this information to another computer or a terminal capable of receiving the data. Eventually, that information may travel along glass fibers instead of copper wires, permitting the linking of computers over longer distances.

"We'll soon be able to tie together all kinds of high-speed computers and computer terminals," says Tolmie. "It helps both the manufacturers and the users." A variety of manufacturers, many of whom are involved in developing the standard, have already indicated an interest in using the new channel.

"It's very important for us to see such a standard," says Newt Perdue of Ultra Network Technologies in San Jose, Calif. That company is developing a high-speed network for linking fast computers. "That lets our company concentrate on performance," he says, instead of having to worry about how to link up with all the different kinds of computers available.

Initially, high-speed channels and networks using the channels will be most in demand for scientific and engineering applications at places such as the national laboratories, NASA and automotive and oil companies, says Perdue. There's also a growing market in the health sciences because of the need to process large volumes of data from X-ray machines and other imaging devices.
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Title Annotation:high-speed computer-to-computer link
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 30, 1988
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