Sun Microsystems has announced a research initiative to build a new system to connect chips.
The project has been funded to the tune of $44m by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).
Sun will attempt to develop photonic connections to provide high-speed links between individual chips.
Such connections could allow vendors to create high-performance systems by combining multiple low-cost processors to function as a single unit.
"Optical communications could be a truly game-changing technology," said Greg Papadopoulos, chief technology officer and executive vice president of R&D at Sun.
"This is an elegant way to continue impressive performance gains while completely changing the economics of large-scale silicon production."
Sun also hopes that the five-year project will help reduce the cost of building supercomputers.
The technology could eventually be used for systems that work on intensive tasks such as weather modelling and sifting through energy and biotechnology research data.
Dr Jag Shah, programme manager at Darpa's microsystems technology office, hopes that the organisation will find a wide range of uses for the new technology.
"By restoring the balance between computation and communications, the programme will significantly enhance [the Department of Defense's] capabilities for image processing, autonomous operations, synthetic aperture radar and supercomputing," he said.
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