How Copper Wiring Will Affect Intel's Light Peak Tech

By Wesley Fenlon

Intel is ready to launch Light Peak in 2011, but it will be up to device makers to bring the technology to market.

Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors (which are now available) deliver great performance at an affordable price, but there’s one thing Intel’s new chipsets have left out in the cold for 2011: USB 3.0. ASUS and our other motherboard pals have us covered, but Intel isn’t going out of its way to add USB 3.0 support just yet. Native USB 3 support will arrive in 2012 with Ivy Bridge--for the present, Intel’s going to give Light Peak a chance to shine.

ready to hit a computer system near you, though not quite in the form we expected. Early Light Peak implementation will use copper wiring instead of fiber optics, which may put a damper on Intel's speed claims.

Speaking to IDG News at CES 2011, Intel’s Architecture group executive vice president David Perlmutter said “USB 3.0 already has a traction in the market. I don't know if that will change.” He specified that we should “Look at [Light Peak] as a medium by which you can do things, not necessarily as one replacing the other.”

Apple is involved in the project. Despite Perlmutter’s claim, could Apple be preparing to support Light Peak over USB 3.0? One of Light Peak’s big advantages is its flexibility--a single multi-protocol port could connect a variety of different devices, from monitors to flash drives. But it will be difficult to switch so many devices over to a new protocol. Perhaps we’ll see a Light Peak adapter market explode onto the scene within a few years.

That copper wire complicates matters. It means Light Peak will be cheaper at launch, and Perlmutter said that the speed was surprisingly good. Over fiber optics, Light Peak is designed to reach speeds of 10 gigabits per second, twice as fast as USB 3. Over the next ten years, Light Peak could attain speeds of up to 100 Gbit/s. Intel has yet to specify the bandwidth capabilities of Light Peak over copper.

Like Apple, Sony supports Intel’s Light Peak venture. Longtime readers may remember a copper wire transmission technology Sony demonstrated in 2010 that could handle data speeds of 940 Mbps. Fast, but a far cry from 10 gigabits per second.

Though Light Peak is ready to go, there’s no word on when we’ll actually see it in stores. The technology is ready for device makers--now it’s time for them to do something cool with it.