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Intel Light Peak - One Cable Fits All

Posted June 10, 2010 12:00 AM by Kaplin

Over the past few decades, file storage capacity has increased dramatically -- 3TB hard drives are expected to begin shipping before the year's end, but file transfer speeds have largely remained stagnant. You might have even become frustrated with the length of time it takes to transfer files or create a system backup. Due to the multitude of extremely large files (HD video) and growing collections of smaller files (music, pictures), this has become an ever-increasing annoyance.

Although data transfer technologies have improved with both USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 coming to market in the past year, some companies like Intel think there is still room for improvement.

Slow USB 3.0 Adoption
Although USB 3.0 has been on the market for over 6 months now, it has had a much slower adoption rate than previous versions of the standard. Many of the enthusiast motherboard manufacturers, such as ASUS and Gigabyte, have included USB 3.0 in their compete lineup. However, mainstream PC makers including Dell, HP, Acer, and Lenovo still only include USB 3.0 in their highest-end products.

There is a reason USB 3.0 isn't included in most of these mainstream PCs, and that reason rests with Intel. Older USB controllers are included inside the processor, leaving USB 2.0 support standard on virtually all PCs and laptops.

Intel has largely ignored the new standard that can transfer files up to 10 times quicker than USB 2.0. They've even gone as far as to say that their next generation of chips due in 2011, codenamed "Sandy Bridge," will also lack USB 3.0 support. This leaves motherboard makers to add USB 3.0 support themselves at an increased cost.

Light Peak FTW?
Intel 's reasoning for not including USB 3.0 support in their chips is to hold it back as long as possible in hopes that their own proprietary standard, called Light Peak, will come to market and make USB obsolete before the new version can saturate the market.

Intel boasts that initial versions of Light Peak will have a transfer speed of 10 gigabits per second, twice as much as USB 3.0. They also predict that in 10 years, future iterations of Light Peak could sport speeds up to a whopping 100 gigabits per second.

Certain components are itching to take advantage of the faster transfer speeds, but other devices including keyboards, mice, printers, or other peripherals will have little use for the extra bandwidth that most likely will come with an increased cost.

Replacing USB devices is just the tip of the iceberg according to Intel, who says Light Peak can also replace SATA, HDMI, Firewire, SCSI and e-SATA.

A few Light Peak components will start showing up on the market in 2010, but Light Peak-ready computers won't be available until sometime in 2011. As for how much of a premium Light Peak will cost is anyone's guess at this point.

Frustration in the Transition
One valid concern is that even if Light Peak does succeed, it will take years and years for it to replace any of the current cabling standards. This means that during the lengthy transition period, motherboards and components will have to support Light Peak in addition to existing technologies, increasing the overall cost even more and requiring more ports than current PCs have. (One of Intel's reasons for Light Peak was to reduce the overall number of ports required on laptops)

Will Light Peak be the universal cable of the future, or have USB and HDMI become too mainstream to be stopped?

More Info:
Light Peak Technology
Intel Shows off First Light Peak Laptop
Intel Delays USB 3.0 Chipset until 2012

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Power-User

Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 244
Good Answers: 18
#1

Re: Intel Light Peak - One Cable Fits All

06/11/2010 9:49 AM

The proprietary (but slightly better) - versus - open market standard has been fought since the days of Beta-vs-VHS.

Proprietary does not always lose, however, as Sony finally was successful in using the courts to make BlueRay the lone 'legal' tech to use where HD already had a competitor.

USB-3 is already moving data much faster than it's predecessor using some compatible hardware, and everyone loves faster transfer speeds like that.

It would be even tougher to stop USB3 completely if Intel's competitors were to integrate it on-board immediately, but something somewhere will have to budge and the market will decide this one quickly. Light Peak may even be irrelevent by the time Intel finally gets these out into production PCs, but only if they make the rights/royalties dirt cheap on version-1 will it penetrate quickly. Sony's usual dilemma was attempting to push proprietary and make all their money up front. We'll see soon if Intel plays it smarter. Better to make a penny on each of a million new standards than a million on an obsolete interface.

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