Intel's "Light Peak" interconnect, now called Thunderbolt, will first appear in Apple's new MacBook Pro devices, with plans for more products in the future.
Intel's "Light Peak"
PC interconnect technology is making its debut via Apple's new MacBook Pro
notebooks, which were announced Feb. 24.
Intel has been working on the technology-now called Thunderbolt-for several
years, and executives said that it now puts high-speed data transfer and
high-definition display onto a single cable that runs at 10G bps-fast enough to
transfer a full-length high-definition movie in less than 30 seconds.
According to Intel, Thunderbolt is aimed at helping users handle HD media by
giving them the ability to sync high-bandwidth audio and video between their
computers and peripheral devices. It enables users to move large media files
more quickly-allowing them to watch and edit videos with less time spent
waiting-than with other connectivity solutions. In addition, data can be backed
up and restored more quickly, and for mobile device users, Thunderbolt will
mean a single connector on ultra-thin laptops.
Intel officials said Thunderbolt will be complementary to other I/O
technologies that Intel supports. That includes USB
2.0, and the chip maker is continuing with plans to support USB
"Working with HD media is one of the most demanding things people do
with their PCs," Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's PC Client Group,
said in a statement. "With Thunderbolt technology, Intel has delivered
innovative technology to help professionals and consumers work faster and more
easily with their growing collection of media content, from music to HD movies.
We've taken the vision of simple, fast transfer of content between PCs and
devices, and made it a reality."
Thunderbolt uses PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays,
enabling Intel to offer the high-speed data and HD video connections on the
same cable. In addition, all Thunderbolt-enabled devices will share a common
connector, and users will be able to daisy-chain their devices.
The technology is powered by an Intel-created controller chip, and it uses a
small connector that company officials said is suitable for mobile devices.
Intel officials said several companies have shown interest in Thunderbolt, with
some having announced products and others announcing plans. Those companies
include Aja, Blackmagic, LaCie and Western Digital. Thunderbolt will be
cropping up in a host of different devices along with PCs, including displays,
storage devices, cameras and docking stations.
When Intel first began talking about Light
Peak, it was as an optical
interconnect technology that uses light rather than copper wires and electrons
to move data. In a conference
call with analysts and journalists in November 2010, Intel executives noted
that their engineers in July had created the prototype of an
optical interconnect that moved data around a system at a speed of up to
During the call, Intel CTO Justin Rattner
said copper wires are reaching the limit of their ability to transmit data-that
as speed increases with copper wires, it becomes more difficult to move
electrons over longer distances.
"We've traded performance over distance," Rattner said during the
conference call. "Photonics gives us the ability to move vast amounts of
data across the room or across the globe at extremely high speed."
However, there also are some issues with fiber optics, in particular the
high cost of it. It's why David Perlmutter, executive vice president and
general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, told journalists during the
Consumer Electronics Show in January that initially Light
Peak would be based on copper.
However, during the November call, Rattner said that once various
technological and cost issues are solved, photonics-based versions of Light
Peak could begin appearing in PCs,
mobile devices and servers by the middle of the decade.
Intel is not the only company looking at using light to transmit data. Other
vendors, including IBM, also have photonics
projects under way.