The relevance of introducing optical interconnects (OI’s) in monoprocessors and multiprocessors is studied from an architectural point of view. We show that perhaps the major explanation for why optical technologies have nearly been unable to penetrate into computers is that OI’s generally do not shorten the memory-access time, which is the most critical issue for today’s stored-program machines. In monoprocessors the memory-access time is dominated by the electronic latency of the memory itself. Thus implementing OI’s inside the memory hierarchy without changing the memory architecture cannot dramatically improve the global performance. In strongly coupled multiprocessors the node-bypass latency dominates. Therefore the higher the connectivity (possibly with optics), the shorter the path to another node, but the more expensive the network and the more complex the structure of electronic nodes. This relation leaves the choice of the best network open in terms of simplicity and latency reduction. The bottlenecks resulting from and the benefits of implementing OI’s are discussed with respect to symmetric multiprocessors, rings, and distributed shared-memory supercomputers.
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