Optical connectivity, particularly through silicon photonics, is anticipated to become a pivotal technology in facilitating connectivity for next-generation datacenters, especially those designed for high-performance computing (HPC) applications. With the progressively increasing bandwidth demands required to enhance system performance, relying solely on copper signaling is no longer sufficient. In response, several companies are developing silicon photonics solutions, including semiconductor manufacturing giants like TSMC. This week, TSMC unveiled its 3D Optical Engine roadmap during its 2024 North American Technology Symposium, outlining its strategy to provide up to 12.8 Tbps optical connectivity for processors manufactured by TSMC.

TSMC's Compact Universal Photonic Engine (COUPE) integrates an electronics integrated circuit with a photonic integrated circuit (EIC-on-PIC) utilizing the company’s SoIC-X packaging technology. The foundry asserts that using its SoIC-X technology enables the lowest impedance at the die-to-die interface, thereby achieving the highest energy efficiency. The EIC itself is manufactured using a 65nm-class process technology.

First Generation COUPE: TSMC's 1st Generation 3D Optical Engine will be embedded into an OSFP pluggable device, operating at 1.6 Tbps. This transfer rate significantly surpasses current copper Ethernet standards, which peak at 800 Gbps, highlighting the immediate bandwidth benefit of optical interconnects for highly-networked compute clusters, not to mention the anticipated power savings.

Looking ahead, the 2nd Generation of COUPE is designed to integrate into CoWoS packaging as co-packaged optics with a switch, enabling optical interconnections at the motherboard level. This iteration will support data transfer rates of up to 6.40 Tbps with reduced latency compared to the first generation.

TSMC’s third iteration, COUPE running on a CoWoS interposer, aims to further enhance performance, increasing transfer rates to 12.8 Tbps while bringing optical connectivity closer to the processor itself. Currently, COUPE-on-CoWoS is in the development pathfinding stage, and TSMC has not set a target release date.

Until now, TSMC has not actively participated in the silicon photonics market, unlike industry peers like GlobalFoundries. However, with its 3D Optical Engine Strategy, TSMC is poised to enter this crucial market, aiming to make substantial progress and capitalize on the opportunities within.

TSMC's advanced silicon photonics solutions, as demonstrated through its 3D Optical Engine roadmap, position the company to meet the growing demands of next-generation datacenters and HPC applications, offering significant improvements in bandwidth, energy efficiency, and latency.