An optical cable on your PC or server that delivers 10 to 100 gigabits per second. That's Intel's vision of its Light Peak technology, which the company is now promoting to replace or supplement USB 3.0. Even at the lower end of the transmission speed -- 10 Gbps -- a high-definition movie can be transferred in under 30 seconds.
On Wednesday at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, senior Intel fellow Kevin Kahn discussed the technology and showed a laptop with a thin Light Peak cable. The laptop was connected to a docking station and a monitor, where it showed high-definition video from a HD camera. He said Intel would "like to build the last cable you'll ever need."
Bypassing USB 3.0?
Kahn's prototype actually had the Light Peak cable running though a USB 3.0 port adapted with additional components, but which still functioned for USB. He noted that the size of the port could be reduced much more, to make the technology feasible for small mobile devices and enable smaller, faster devices.
USB 3.0, which is not yet widely available in devices, has a transfer rate of about five Gbps and cannot be made in lengths as long as optical cables. One of the reasons it's not widely adopted is because there is no USB 3.0 chipset from Intel, and observers are speculating that the chipmaker is bypassing 3.0 in favor of the optical technology. There are also reports that Apple, among others, is pushing Light Peak.
Intel has noted that electrical cable technology like USB is approaching practical limits not shared by optical technology. Kahn told the forum that Light Peak is not necessarily competitive with USB, and the two technologies could be complementary, in that USB protocols could run over a Light Peak cable.
Light Peak technology, unveiled in 2009, is expected to become available to manufacturers later this year, with devices containing the technology hitting the market by early 2011.
Light Peak for Servers
Light Peak technology utilizes a controller chip and an optical module that converts back and forth from light to electricity, using small lasers and photo detectors. Intel said it will manufacture the controller chip, and it is working with suppliers for the other components.
Richard Shim, an analyst with industry research firm IDC, noted that Intel is particularly promoting the use of Light Peak on servers, which, he pointed out, "have higher throughput requirements" than PCs.
Both server and PC customers are continually looking for technology that is "faster, smaller, cheaper," he said. But Shim noted that, even as bandwidth demands grow with the adoption of high-definition video recording, there will still be "lots of legacy equipment" around and any adoption of optical cables will take time.
Posted: 2010-04-16 @ 2:48pm PT
I wonder if Light Peak can/will be as a hard drive interface?
Posted: 2010-04-16 @ 2:35pm PT
Who can believe that Light Peak will be ready at an affordable price any time soon? Sure, they will sell it in 2011, but not at a price that most users will want to pay. Come on Intel, give us USB 3 and Light Peak. That gives both normal users and business users something they can use. Most of us will use USB 3 now and Light Peak later.
Posted: 2010-04-15 @ 3:36pm PT
This is annoying. I wish Intel would just build the USB 3 chipset and then get on with implementing lightpeak which seems like it will be ready in a few years time. Who knows how long it will take to agree to a standard for it.
Posted: 2010-04-15 @ 3:36pm PT
And what comes after Light Peak when higher data transfer rates are available?