Intel has been talking to several news outlets about their Light Peak technology at CES. While we all knew Intel was going to push this standard in favor of USB 3.0, this is the first time they have mentioned actual finished implementations. Previous estimates said the technology was likely to be ready sometime during 2012; but there is a bit of fine print in this announcement.
The gotcha is this: Light Peak was supposed to bring fiber-optic connections between PC’s and peripherals such as hard drives, displays and other accessories. Promising speeds of up to 100 Gbps sometime during the next decade, Light Peak is touted as a one-size-fits-all replacement for just about any type of cable now found on a typical PC or laptop. The initial target speed was 10 Gbps, and Intel is now saying they have achieved this speed using copper instead of fiber optic cabling.
I guess the switch to copper for the first-generation product is driven by a need to get products into the market as soon as possible; with USB 3.0 devices capable of 4.8 Gbps speeds hitting the market during the second half of 2010 Intel will have a lot of work convincing computer makers to adopt their standard. Both Sony and Apple are rumored to be among the first adopters; both companies have a wealth of experience in pushing an alternative standard (FireWire).
All this means 2011 will be an interesting year for peripheral makers, with a nice range of competing standards to support:
- USB 2.0/3.0, with speeds of up to 5 Gbps
- FireWire, with speeds of up to 800 Mbps and 1.6/3.2 Gbps versions of the standard ready for implementation
- Light Peak, with speeds of up to 10 Gbps
All three will require different chipsets and different connectors. In the long run, I expect Intel to take the lead; especially if they are able to deliver on their promise of multi-protocol connections over Light Peak. If they are able to pass USB 3.0 and FireWire signals over a Light Peak connection that ability combined with their large share of the market for PC chipsets should be enough to get the upper hand in the PC market.