[Interview] Intel Discusses 'Light Peak' Interface

Sep 15, 2010
Hiroki Yomogita, Nikkei Electronics
Jason Ziller, director, Optical I/O Planning/Marketing, Intel Architecture Group, Intel Corp
Jason Ziller, director, Optical I/O Planning/Marketing, Intel Architecture Group, Intel Corp
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Intel Corp has been developing Light Peak, an interface for optical transmission, which is aimed at notebook PCs and netbooks. The company expects that it will become possible to integrate the signal transmissions of USB 3.0, PCI Express, etc by using the interface for physical layers (See related article).

We interviewed Jason Ziller, director, Optical I/O Planning/Marketing, Intel Architecture Group, Intel, about Light Peak. (Interviewer: Hiroki Yomogida, Nikkei Electronics)

Q: What is the aim of the development of Light Peak?

Ziller: We have two aims. First, we want to realize a high-speed and scalable external interface. The transmission speed of Light Peak is 10Gbps at first, but it is possible to enhance it to about 100Gbps. We sorely needed such a wideband interface for the future.

The second goal is to integrate interfaces. Existing notebook PCs and netbooks require a large number of connectors and cables to handle various external interfaces that use different protocols. On the other hand, there are demands for reducing the number of connectors of netbooks as they become smaller.

In theory, Light Peak can be used for transmitting signals with different protocols such as USB 3.0, DisplayPort and PCI Express. Therefore, it is possible to reduce the required number of connectors and cables by using Light Peak, removing obstacles to reducing the sizes of devices.

Q: What will be the applications of Light Peak?

Ziller: Light Peak will be used for expanding the input-output interfaces of notebook PCs, netbooks and tablet PCs. For example, they will be connected to external storage devices and displays by using Light Peak. It can drastically enhance the speed of data transmission to peripheral devices.

Q: Is Light Peak mainly used for external interfaces, such as connection to peripheral devices? Or will it also be utilized for appliance wiring such as on a circuit board or between chips?

Ziller: At first, we intend to use it for external interfaces. But, in the future, it is possible that Light Peak will be used for appliance wiring.

Q: Is it possible to transmit HDMI signals on Light Peak?

Ziller: In theory, Light Peak can transmit any protocols. In any case, whether it will be realized or not depends on our clients (device makers).

Q: Is it possible that Light Peak will be used for mobile devices like smartphones?

Ziller: In the long run, yes. The early Light Peak is targeted at, for example, netbooks and not suited for small devices like mobile phones. But I think Light Peak will be applied to small devices including smartphones in a few years by optimizing it.

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Q: When will devices using Light Peak debut in the market?

Ziller: The target year is 2011. At this point, we can show a demonstration by using a prototype of a controller chip. In other words, we finished the research and development and entered the phase of developing products.

As for products, I think that external storage devices will first support Light Peak to be connected to netbooks and other devices. At IDF, we demonstrated a system that communicates with a storage device at high speeds, and we exhibited a professional-use video editing machine compatible with Light Peak.

Q: When in 2011 will they debut?

Ziller: I cannot tell you a specific time. I cannot say whether it will be the beginning of the year or the end of the year. However, many consumer device makers showed interest in Light Peak. They include many Japanese firms such as Sony. We are expecting that a variety of products will be released within two or three years after the first products will be released in the next year.

Q: USB 3.0 will also be used for connection to external storage devices. Will Light Peak compete with USB 3.0?

Ziller: Light Peak and USB 3.0 will not compete with each other at all. They are complementary to each other. USB 3.0 will not affect Intel's efforts on interfaces because Light Peak is intended for new usages.

Q: Are you planning to establish an industry group related to Light Peak?

Ziller: We are now focusing on releasing products within 2011. But, after that, it will be important for us to facilitate the spread of Light Peak in the industry.

Q: Do you think optical interfaces will be the mainstream for notebook PCs and netbooks?

Ziller: It depends on device makers. If our clients hope so, optical interfaces will be used in such a way.

Q: How long is the wavelength of optical signals used for Light Peak?

Ziller: It is 850nm. Optical signals are transmitted via optical fibers made of glass. The wavelength was decided in consideration of cost, durability, transmission range and so forth. However, it is possible that plastic optical fibers (POF) will be used in the future because its properties are drastically improving.

Q: Who will provide optical modules for Light Peak?

Ziller: So far, we have announced two company names: Avago Technologies and SAE Magnetics.

Q: How much component cost do you expect for Light Peak?

Ziller: We cannot disclose a target price. But we expect that it will be much lower than that of the optical transmitter and receiver circuits such as used in the field of telecommunications.