Light Peak – Is Intel Getting Too Far Ahead Of Itself?

Some of the time, companies that work on upcoming improvements get out of sync with themselves, and it looks as though Intel is doing that right now.

Light Peak is being shown by Intel as the successor to USB 3.0, and using optical means to transfer data. While the speed it promises may bee needed one day, right now, there is little that could use the bandwidth of USB 3.0, much less saturate a USB 3.0 channel.

It is nice to know that things are in place to keep the data moving, but Light Peak seems to be something that won’t be needed in individual PCs for quite some time, and, if we are to believe some (I don’t!), the home PC will soon disappear, replaced by a handheld phone-like computing device. The possibility of this occurring is low, but on the off chance it did happen, there would be no need for this at all – it would be something for business alone, or relegated to the museum, as something that might have been.


Intel this week demonstrated more of their upcoming Light Peak cable, a high-speed optical technology for interconnecting different electronic devices. The chip-maker stated that the technology would be ready for manufacturers by the end of this year and start shipping in 2011.

With USB 3.0 starting to come into the mix, some of have expressed doubts over how Light Peak would gain any prominence in the market. Intel answered those questions this week at their Intel Developer Forum: “We view Light Peak as a logical future successor to USB 3.0. In some sense we would like to build the last cable you will ever need,” said Kevin Kahn, Intel’s Director of Communications Technology Lab.

USB 3.0 boasts backwards compatibility and is likely to see rapid adoption among vendors as the majority of peripherals today rely on USB 2.0. Investors have questioned how Light Peak could see penetration in the market given that fact and Kahn stated in his keynote speech that the two technologies would not conflict as Light Peak “enables USB and other protocols to run together on a single, longer cable and at higher speeds in the future.”

Intel must not see the same future for the desktop PC as those purveyors of handheld devices. I would think that this might be nice, but we would first need to see houses pre-wired with fiber, instead of copper. It could happen, and in my lifetime, but I don’t see it as being widespread in my lifetime. This development to me cries out, “University usage”. I can envision this type of connection between an array of computers throughout a university, allowing various things to happen. With the flip of a switch, the change could be made between computers connected over a “network” as part of a workgroup, to a configuration where the computers are tied together to form a supercomputer, available whenever needed.

To demonstrate, Intel brought out a laptop connected to a Light Peak cable using a USB 3.0 port and simultaneously transmitted a Blu-Ray video, an HD video feed, and a mirrored display all onto another screen. The USB 3.0 port used in the laptop was still able to connect and use regular USB devices. Asked if the USB 3.0 port would be the standard port for Light Peak, Kahn replied that it was “a likely place to start because it is common” but that “you could take the size way, way down.”

Light Peak currently tops out at 10 gigabits per second, twice that of what USB 3.0 is rated at. Intel claims that a 20Gbps version is in the works and that it can be scaled up to 10 times the current limit within the next decade. The company further stressed that electrical cables through copper are reaching their limits due to electromagnetic interference (EMI), thickness, and length and asserted that optical would come to replace them in the future as it transfers data through light instead of electricity.

I should think that the cable would be a simple fiber bundle, like the ones used for better sound cards today. That way there would be no intelligence, and added cost, in the cables, and the optical to electrical circuitry would be completely enclosed in the devices connected. This also feels like it will be a high-end solution, well into the future, as SCSI once was, SAS is, and Firewire 800 continues to be.

One thing about this – we are quickly approaching the look and feel of the world of Star Trek – the original series – as we use crystals (USB thumbdrives) to hold information, plugging them into a computer to retrieve and use the information contained within, we have communicators (cell phones, high power walkie talkies) that allow speaking, and visual information, over a long distance, and, we are becoming as blasé about it as the actors in that series were pretending to be.


Server room connecting these with light?  makes sense.  connecting these with light?Dell_Inspiron_Mini_12_01not so much…

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