Data transfer speeds of late have become the bottleneck for faster devices. There are just too many types of buses available for high speed data transfer like SCSI, SATA, Firewire, HDMI etc, none of which can support the speed required for the devices of the future. USB 3.0 does seem promising but with a raw data transfer rate of 4.8Gbps it doesn’t sound futureproof. Then there is a problem of length of the buses too which none of the current technologies can address. Enter Light Peak, Intel’s brand new brainchild, the future of data transfer. Harnessing the speed of light, Light Peak uses optical fibres to attain speed as high as 100Gbps as claimed by Intel.

Although optical fibres were long used for data transfer such as long distance telephony and broadband internet, they were not useful for indoor applications as they could not be bent beyond a certain angle. In a common household passing an optical fibre through the nooks and corners was just not possible. Optical fibres leak light when bent too much and this results in loss of data.

In 2007, Corning Incorporated had come out with a new technology for optical fibres which could be bent at high angles too. This was achieved by employing nanostructure reflectors which would keep the light trapped inside. Normally an optical fibre was wrapped around in a metal sheath to prevent bending at sharp angles. This would increase the bulk of the wire. Thus the new technology also made the wires lighter as the metal sheathing could be done away with. This new type of optical fibre was named Clearcurve.

Intel has employed Clearcurve in the development of Light Peak. A simple Light Peak cable consists of two optical fibres covered in a flexible braided copper shell. Two fibres means data transfer can take place in both the directions at one time. The copper shell while providing physical protection is also used to power up the device. The resulting cable is much thinner than conventional cables like the one used for connecting different peripherals. Intel also claims the length of the wire could be extended as long as 100 metres. Speed has been claimed at 10Gbps with scalability to 100Gbps.

Intel has demonstrated a prototype light peak cable at the IDF 2009. A special Mac Pro motherboard was used to stream two full HD displays and also LAN and hard drives over a 30m long cable. To ensure backward compatibility with older motherboards Intel has also designed a PCI-e card to connect to light peak devices. Western Digital is already offering light peak technology with its My Book 3.0. They have included a PCIe card as well in the bundle. Intel estimates light peak will be employed on a large scale by the end of this year.

Light Peak could be used to drive anything from LAN to display devices. It has the potential to replace many of the old standards while offering higher bandwidth and thinner and lighter cabling.