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Tom Nelson

Apple May Be Behind New Intel Light Peak High-Speed Optical Interface

By September 28, 2009

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Late last week Intel demoed a new high-speed interconnect technology that can run as fast as 10 Gbps full duplex (10 Gbps in each direction). Based on an optical interface, the Light Peak connect had four independent channels and was used to simultaneously drive an Apple 30Ē display and transfer large files between an internal and external set of hard drives. It did all that without any noticeable drop in performance in the display or in the speed of the data copying.

Apple May Be Behind New Intel Light Peak High-Speed Optical Interface

Courtesy of Intel

The demo was interesting for many reasons. The motherboard used for the demonstration could have been a modified Mac Pro motherboard, or a next generation Mac Pro prototype. It was hard to tell from the demo, but the software that was running was a current build of OS X.

Further investigation from Engadget reveals that Apple may have been the originator of the concept and perhaps a preliminary design.

Apple had reached out to Intel as early as 2007 with plans for an interoperable standard which could handle massive amounts of data and "replace the multitudinous connector types with a single connector (FireWire, USB, Display interface)." From what we've learned, the initial conversations (and apparent disagreements) were had directly between Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini.

Light Peak is designed to eliminate most forms of peripheral interconnect, allowing one type of port to be used for displays, printers, hard drives, and anywhere else that digital data is being moved between devices. Assuming Intelís development of Light Peak moves forward, we will more than likely see it showing up on new Macs sometime in the future. New Macs would still have all of the legacy ports (USB, FireWire, DisplayPort, etc.). But over time, Apple could reduce all of these connection types to one or more Light Peak connections.

When could we expect to see this new port offered in a Mac? Iím only guessing, but based on my involvement in similar engineering projects in the past, a one-year schedule from this point would not be unusual. That assumes that such a project has already been accepted and resources have been assigned.

There is also the likely possibility of delay, especially if the technology is turned over to a third party to be developed into a standard. If that occurs, all bets are off as far as when the technology would become available. Of course that may not matter if Apple has a specific use in mind, as opposed to a general interface specification that would require peripheral manufacturers to get on board as well.

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