SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. The buzz in fast interconnects at the Intel Developer Forum was supposed to be around SuperSpeed USB, the 3.0 version of the omnipresent interface coming to systems in 2010. But somewhere on the road to San Francisco's Moscone Center, Intel decided to roll out Light Peak, the next next big thing in fast interconnects.
The 5 GHz USB 3.0 still got plenty of attention with a dozen chip, system and software vendors showing working products with throughput up to 250 Mbytes/second. But the 10 Gbit/second optical Light Peak captured people's imaginations—especially when Intel said it would have discrete controllers for it in 2010, perhaps even before it supports USB 3.0 in its chip sets.
Light Peak could be thought of as a USB 4.0++ because it can carry any protocol. Intel engineered it to cost less than two dollars a port, the price ceiling for client PCs and notebooks. Intel positions Light Peak as the single connector tomorrow's thin and light notebooks will need to link to high def displays, cameras, storage devices and come-what-may.
Intel demoed Light Peak carrying 8 Gbits/s of DisplayPort traffic
Click on image to enlarge.
But Intel execs were clear the company needs to build out a whole ecosystem of supporting products and vendors for Light Peak. "This is just the beginning of a ten year journey," said Dadi Perlmutter, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group and Intel's top engineer.
The USB 3.0 folks have been working on their ecosystem for about two years now.
"At some point in the future when users demand even higher data rates than we have with USB3, the industry realizes we will need to move to optical interfaces," said Jeff Ravencraft head of the USB Implementers Forum and a manger driving the USB3 initiative at Intel. "We future-proofed the USB cables and connectors so they can accept optical fibres," he added.
At IDF they showed working host controllers from NEC Electronics and Fresco Logic. Both aim to ship before the end of the year. They are the only options so far, although Taiwan's Via has shown an FPGA version of a USB3 controller.
There was no word at IDF on Intel's plans to support USB3 in its PC chip sets, a move which would kick start the shift to USB3. Two sources said Intel's plan to sample chip sets for USB3 in the first quarter of 2010 has been delayed, and one source said the delay could be as long as a year. The lack of PC chip set support likely will mean the initial ramp of USB3 will be much slower.