Home' LAPTOP Magazine : November 2010 Contents Transfer junkies may be excited for USB 3.0,
but Intel's Light Peak solution promises up
to double the speeds of that standard. We're
talking data rates of up to 10 gigabits per second,
fast enough to transfer a full 1080p digital copy of
No Country for Old Men(about 4GB)in less than 4
seconds (normally a two-hour process). But that's
not all Light Peak can do. To learn more about this
exciting technology, we spoke with Victor Krutul,
director of the I/O optical team at Intel and a former
head Light Peak engineer.
LAPTOP: So how does Light Peak
achieve such fast transfer rates?
Victor Krutul: We are reaching the practical limits
of how fast you can go with copper interconnects.
So when you put electrical signals down a copper
wire, you get an electromagnetic wave that goes
around it. The problem is, having wires next to each
other creates wave interference, which causes
electromagnetic interference (EMI), limiting how
fast and how far data can travel.
With Light Peak we use lasers, rather than
electrical signals. Photons do not interfere with
each other the way electrons do, so you don't
have the EMI issue.
L: What's the benefit of using an
VK: The signaling distances are longer. When
making a long-distance phone call, your voice is
converted to optical. Likewise, if you're sending an
e-mail to me, our Internet service providers convert
it to optical because [optical signals] can go longer
distances. Optical undersea cables, for instance,
are kilometers long. For Light Peak, we don't have
high-end optical transceivers, but with those you
can [send signals] 20 kilometers.
L: Do you think Light Peak will
replace DisplayPort or HDMI?
VK: It's not our intention to have DisplayPort or
HDMI go away. We support HDMI and DisplayPort
on our chipsets and will continue to have those.
Higher bandwidth, having one connector with
multiple protocols over it, new usage models, cable
simplification . . . that's what [Light Peak] is really
about. We complement the other ones. The reality
is that HDMI connectors are going to be in our TVs
probably until I stop watching TV.
L: Is this technology going to work
with smart phones?
VK: One of our usage models is consumer electronic
devices. What's really happening with smart phones is
they are getting more intelligent and want to [consume]
content. As long as I have a movie on there, why not
allow me to display it on the television? Say I'm on a
business trip, I check into my hotel room, and now
I want to sit back on the bed. I have a long enough
cable---100 meters is more than long enough---so
I can sit there in bed, using my phone to control the
movie while watching it on TV.
L: What are some other usage
VK: We're also targeting content creation. As PCs
become more powerful, more people are producing
content for audio and video. Why go to a studio
and pay $50,000 to have them edit it, mix it, dub
in sounds, when I can do everything myself? If I'm
editing high-def 3D video, I'm already at 10GB of
data. And now I've got this Light Peak thing where
I can talk to[this content]at a high bandwidth and
produce near-professional--grade audio and video
on a PC, and move it around.
Another thing we're targeting is solid state drives.
They're much faster [PC storage alternatives], and
people are starting to make arrays of them. They're
pretty much in an 8-disk array, wanting 10 Gbps.
L: Could you use Light Peak to
make notebooks more powerful
VK: Let's say I want a thin but powerful laptop
computer. I want long battery life when I'm car-
rying it around with me, but when I get it home
and dock it, I don't care about that anymore. I
want a screaming workstation. Docks have no
intelligence in them whatsoever; they are simply
port replicators. Well, why not put high-end graph-
ics in the dock? And as long as I'm doing that,
maybe I can put more memory in there, maybe
even a higher-end CPU.
L: Can Light Peak handle power
management? Can it charge
VK: First of all, on power management: absolutely.
If there's nothing plugged in, we turn the lasers
and everything off. We can detect when something
is plugged in and wants to do something, or if
something is plugged in but inactive; so our power
management can save battery life.
Then there's power delivery to peripherals that
don't have batteries. We can do that, too. In those
cases, we have to do it electrically. There's no
efficient way to transfer power optically, at least
not right now.
L: So I could charge my MP3
player via a Light Peak cord con-
nected to my laptop? What about
VK: It will be able to charge them. We put the elec-
trical wires in the Light Peak cable. It all depends
on how much power the device wants. There are
such devices---portable printers, for example---that
run off your USB port. With USB 3.0, [the power
threshold] is 4.5 watts. The threshold of Light
Peak is the same.
L: Do you have any idea what Light
Peak wires will cost, both for the
consumer and the manufacturer?
VK: Yes, but we're not talking about pricing right
now. So far we've announced the technology, and
when we actually get ready to start selling, we'll
do a product announcement and each vendor will
have its own price list.
L: When will Light Peak--enabled
products hit the market?
VK: We expect both Intel and other vendors
to announce component availability later this
year, and we're on track to do that. We have
preproduction stuff out now, so internally we've
built thousands of prototypes. Vendors will start
selling them to peripheral makers and computer
makers, and we suspect they'll start shipping
products in 2011.
L: Over time, Intel claims that
Light Peak will be able to obtain
100 Gbps speeds. How?
VK: Whenever you design new technology, you
have to build in headroom. The rate of 10 Gbps
is good enough today for anything you have,
but we'd like to see an interconnect that has a
10-plus-year lifetime. Things are always going
to get faster.
There is a way to do something called WDM:
wavelength division multiplexing. We put multiple
colors of light down one fiber, with each laser at
a different color or wavelength. Then we can use
a prism-like device at both ends to multiplex the
lights together, or to split them into separate colors,
and convert it all back into electrons. So yes, later
generations will scale to more bands of light and
an even higher bandwidth.
LAPTOP | November 2010
UPGRADES & TIPS
THE EVOLUTION OF SPEED
USB 2.0 480 Mbps
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