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Report: Apple pushed Intel to develop Light Peak cabling

Prince McLean, AppleInsider

Following a demonstration by Intel of an advanced new optical data port called Light Peak, a new report says Apple actually brought the concept to Intel and that the new standard will play “a hugely important role” in upcoming Apple products.

Report: Apple pushed Intel to develop Light Peak cabling
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Engadget reported the news first, based on “an extremely reliable source.” The site said it reviewed evidence that Apple began talks with Intel in 2007 to develop a new cabling standard with the capacity to handle “massive amounts of data” and replace a variety of existing ports, including USB, FireWire, and DisplayPort.

The article said initial conversation and fleshing out of the Light Peak standard began between Steve Jobs and Intel CEO Paul Otellini. Apple expressed a need for a single port and that optical signaling made the most sense.

Apple is expected to incorporate Light Peak quickly and will use it to replace other legacy ports, much as it did with USB on the original iMac, albeit on a smaller scale. Engadget said that based on what it saw, it expects Apple to roll out the new connector on machines next fall, replacing existing ports for networking, display, and general peripheral use.

Within another year, it expects Apple to begin rolling out a low power version suitable for use in mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch, and a version of the tablet device Apple is expected to bring to market early next year.

Light Peak uses optical rather than electrical signaling to achieve an initial throughput of 10Gbps (“you could transfer a full-length Blu-Ray movie in less than 30 seconds” Intel says). That’s similar to high-end optical Fibre Channel or HDMI, and ten times faster than Gigibit Ethernet, more than twenty times faster than USB 2.0, and three times faster than eSATA/SATA 300. Within a decade, Intel expects to achieve speeds of 100 Gbps.

Unlike bulky copper cables (like HDMI), Light Peak achieves its speeds over fibre optic strands the size of a human hair. And unlike existing ports focused on solving a specific problem, such as USB for simple peripherals, DisplayPort for video, SATA for disk drives, and Ethernet for networking, Light Peak can handle multiple protocols over a single cable.

Replacing nearly all of the external ports on existing notebooks or mobile devices with Light Peak would enable a new generation of industrial designs without sacrificing features, as the MacBook Air had to do to achieve its thin outline. It would also enable users to run a single cable to an external display to provide video, audio, touch input, and peripheral expansion that included blazing network performance and high speed disk access.

In an introduction of the new standard, Intel explains on its website, “existing electrical cable technology in mainstream computing devices is approaching practical limits for speed and length, due to electro-magnetic interference (EMI) and other issues. However, optical technology, used extensively in data centers and telecom communications, does not have these limitations since it transmits data using light instead of electricity. Light Peak brings this optical technology to mainstream computing and consumer electronic devices in a cost-effective manner.”

20 comments

1 davebarnes { 09.27.09 at 3:56 pm }

Light Peak looks very interesting.
But, other than the demo by Intel is there any concrete evidence that Apple is going forward with it?
Fall of 2010 is awfully close for a technology shift such as this.

2 Hypothesard { 09.27.09 at 4:28 pm }

@davebarnes
I think that Apple could introduce LighPeak, first on Desktop in addition to regular I/O (USB, FireWire, DisplayPort, Ethernet), eventually with a deported Hub [or “Legacy Dock”] of regular plugs (LightPeak => Dock/rack with USB,FW,Ethernet,DisplayPort, e-SATA)
Then wait 2011 for for Low Power LightPeak which could be placed in Mobile products (NoteBook, iPod, iPhone, iTablet, etc)

The shift to Light Peak won’t be as radical as the shifts from ADB to USB or SCSI to FireWire, as LightPeak is an omipotent protocol transporter (with 10GBits/sec for each strain up and down and 4 of them in each LightPeak plug, you bet It is [omnipotent]).

The only thing to determine is if Light Peak will be able to provide power for devices like USB and FIreWire can (just needing to add 2 copper wire+ground for short cable [less than 5 meters] or at least a Y plug to input 5V-1A for a 2.5″ HDD/SSD drive or a portable DVD burner [Slim one] )

3 Dorotea { 09.27.09 at 4:41 pm }

I have lots of USB/firewire peripherals. So there had better be a way to connect “older” stuff to the fancy new stuff.

4 mrfezzywig { 09.27.09 at 6:38 pm }

It will mean something if Intel integrates it into all their chipsets. Otherwise it will just be a new bunch of adapters to buy.

5 davebarnes { 09.27.09 at 10:18 pm }

@Hypothesard,

You provided more REASONS why Apple should do it. And, I appreciate that.

But, I need some EVIDENCE.
I am trying to decide whether to invest $100K in a Light Peak related venture.
I don’t even need Apple evidence. Dell would be good. Even better, maybe.

6 JohnWatkins { 09.27.09 at 11:12 pm }

“I have lots of USB/firewire peripherals. So there had better be a way to connect “older” stuff to the fancy new stuff.”
Indeed! I have several ADB keyboards, a parallel port printer or two, some USB 1.0 CD players and a SCSI scanner.
Just kidding.

7 Hypothesard { 09.27.09 at 11:51 pm }

@davebarnes
“I am trying to decide whether to invest $100K in a Light Peak related venture.”

O_o

Hrmm too much zeros for me to speak further

But…
The only advice I can write is in fact by retyping what Intel stated : Light Peak should be out in Late 2010, so then would be the good time to “bet/invest”.

If you’ve got regular incomes and need to be up to date, considering a leasing of Aple Solution may not be a bad idea (as Apple offer the option to change the leased Hardware up to the latest Models)

If rumors are enough for you, Dan wrote It in this article :
«Engadget reported the news first, based on “an extremely reliable source”. The site said it reviewed evidence that Apple began talks with Intel in 2007 to develop a new cabling standard with the capacity to handle “massive amounts of data” and replace a variety of existing ports, including USB, FireWire, and DisplayPort.»

8 Hypothesard { 09.27.09 at 11:55 pm }

@davebarnes

oh if you refered to my supposition that Applewould gradually introduce Lightpeak, those were just that : suppositions.
But Apple tasted brutal drop of “legacy” connectivity lately and they probably won’t do Test It twice (IE : FireWire Dropped on MacBook 13″ unibody)

9 studiodave { 09.28.09 at 5:13 am }

Well Apple has been playing with optical for some time by including optical audio for years it only makes sense that they would want to run everything down that pipe. I’ve been using optical for all my audio for the last 8 years and will never choose to use wire again.

10 Berend Schotanus { 09.28.09 at 6:38 am }

“And unlike existing ports focused on solving a specific problem …”

Please remember what a revolution USB has brought to us. Remember the bulky printer ports that disappeared not so long ago and that made computers *ugly*. And if you wanted to connect anything non-standard to your computer (like a scanner) you had to install a card with the appropriate interface. Today we take USB for granted, we think it is normal we can connect anything, camera’s, iPods, printers, mouses, tablets, … , … , to our computer just using a simple cable. But wow, what a vision back than to start with USB.
I sure hope Light Peak has such a bright future as well.

11 daniel84 { 09.28.09 at 7:01 am }

Does anyone know if we’ll be able to daisy-chain Light Peak devices together, as you would with Firewire hard drives, for example?

12 leicaman { 09.28.09 at 11:03 am }

Could this be why Apple has delayed introducing more monitors? Is Mini Display Port a temporary solution?

Could a monitor become the digital hub for everything else? An accompanying small box linked through optical fibers the size of a hair follicles could be small and still contain adapters for legacy ports.

13 aboutjack { 09.28.09 at 6:27 pm }

Daniel: I am surprised you ran this, as if anything at all this year deserves the ‘Daniel Dilger’ treatment, it is this nonsense promulgated by Engadget. The back story is nonsense. The claim of Apple sponsorship is nonsense. And, most egregious, the claim of Apple’s product roadmap including this is utter nonsense.

I buy chips from and deal with the same suppliers that Apple uses each day. I am not under NDA. I can speak. And, what I have to say is that Apple is (a) aimed at transitioning to USB 3.0 by Q2 2010 across the board, and (b) aimed at transitioning to DisplayPort v1.2 by Q3 2010 across the board. And, there is zero motion occurring based on this pointless non-standard optical I/O that essentially subverts much of the globally accepted USB roadmap.

I’m just a grunt who builds electronics goods, so have no knowledge of the higher level political sagas ongoing in the industry — about what Steve and Paul might have discussed over yogurt martinis. But, I assert, and leave to your inimitable analytic skills to verify, that this whole tale (Apple’s rapid adoption) is pure poppycock.

14 Argosy { 09.28.09 at 6:40 pm }

This seems to foretell the end of Display Port before it even gets started? That was my first thought.

Where would this port be most beneficial in early 2010? A couple things come to mind:

-Added to “all” laptops and release a monitor with all the “current” ports built in (as others have mentioned). Making it a one connection “docking station” which Apple doesn’t offer right now. Okay a two connection since one would want power to a laptop as well.

- The high end where that bandwidth and speed translates into time and money. PowerMacs and Xserve?

Cheers,
Argosy

15 nini { 09.28.09 at 8:06 pm }

I still have mixed feelings about Light Peak, how it’s aimed to replace every I/O interface. I like the ideas regarding speed capabilities but not so much the idea of running everything bar AC through the one cable especially with USB 3.0 coming around soon. I guess I would have balked a little at USB when launched though it didn’t replace my display, modem or Ethernet ports like this suggests.

16 Michael { 09.29.09 at 12:29 pm }

@ Berend Schotanus:

“Please remember what a revolution USB has brought to us….we think it is normal we can connect anything…to our computer just using a simple cable”

As a long time Mac user USB didn’t bring anything new to the Mac, other than an increase in speed over ADB. Apple’s ADB was released ten years prior to USB and allowed us to connect all those things you mentioned (other than external storage). There were all the standard input devices, but because it was a serial protocol, it also allowed the connection of printers, scanners and even modems.

The use of SCSI on those same systems back then also gave Mac users another method to connect multiple various devices to our computers. SCSI supported mostly higher bandwidth devices; printers, scanners, hard drives, etc. And could have up to 7 devices daisy chained on one bus.

And actually, the original idea behind FireWire was to bring all those ports down to one. Everything ADB did plus high speed for storage and eventually networking. Unfortunately it proved to be a bit too expensive to add FireWire into cheap peripherals and with the introduction of USB on the iMac, Apple figured it would be better suited for mass adoption and left FireWire relegated to higher end devices.

Given these prior interests by Apple to consolidate ports and cables on their computers over the years, I can believe that Apple was involved in the development of this Light Peak technology.

17 Interesting Reading #337 – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks { 09.29.09 at 1:01 pm }

[...] 29, 2009 Add Comment Apple pushed Intel to develop Light Peak cabling – “it reviewed evidence that Apple began talks with Intel in 2007 to develop a new [...]

18 gus2000 { 09.29.09 at 9:50 pm }

Most all business laptops have a feature missing from all Macbooks…a docking port. The problem is that they’re all proprietary and unique. Even across manufacturers such as Lenovo/IBM, there is a different dock for nearly each model.

But look at the Macbooks used at the Genius Bar in the Apple Stores: they’re swamped with a gaggle of cables coming out the side. The Macbook needs some kind of docking port, but do they really need a gigantic, proprietary connector?

Enter “Light Peak”. It’s the docking port of the 21st century. If I can route all external I/O (video, network, USB, FireWire, audio, etc.) through this one tiny standardized port, then it opens up the field. Docks could be used across laptop models, and available from different sources for different purposes. It would be relatively cheap to implement on many more laptops, with little space/weight penalty.

Where is the outrage from the Wintel crowd over the “lock in” they must suffer over these single-sourced docking stations? Apple has repeatedly shown a desire to push the envelope of advanced and open hardware connectors (MagSafe being the notable exception). This sounds exactly like something Apple would do, and I hope they do it.

19 bartfat { 09.30.09 at 8:42 pm }

Excellent article as always Daniel. Don’t listen to that jerk about USB 3.0 and DisplayPort… as far as we can tell, NO ONE can foretell what Apple does in the future; they simply don’t announce things in advance. And when they do, it’s usually just a couple of weeks before they actually do it. DisplayPort and USB aren’t going away anytime soon, but think about it this way… they’ll be gradually phased out in favor of Light Peak. And that’s really what Daniel is getting at, not the aspect that it will immediately replace USB and DisplayPort. No one said that USB 3.0 would be DOA since Light Peak would be coming out around the same time. It’s likely that USB 3.0 will continue to be used for legacy reasons and gradually the manufacturers will include Light Peak in their connections to hard drives and cameras (since those are the most likely to benefit hugely from the speed increases).

And yeah, Light Peak would be nice as a docking solution too… but that might be asking too much, as Apple doesn’t seem to care for the concept of docking apparently for the last 10 years… but that could be because it involves a port that most consumers wouldn’t use. Here, there might be no such trade-off. On the other hand, Apple store employees don’t really need to move their Macbooks around (they use Macbooks mainly to save space), so that particular analogy doesn’t make sense here, since they don’t really need a docking station. But I’m sure your point is otherwise a valid complaint among road warriors and business users who are constantly on the go that would like to use Apple laptops (though I would suspect with that kind of travel, they’d want the Macbook Air).

Anyway, I’m excited to see Apple is breathing new life into interconnects, because I was going to be disappointed if Firewire died without a successor… it just seems like a good technology that got abandoned and USB ate its lunch. And now Light Peak will probably succeed it, since it can run Firewire protocols and others for cheap :)

20 JohnWatkins { 10.07.09 at 11:29 am }

aboutjack,
Being, “just a grunt who builds electronics goods,” I hope you can forgive us for wondering if you are truly astride of Apple’s internal strategic plans. ;-)

Michael,
“. . . USB didn’t bring anything new to the Mac . . .”
You must have been asleep! (And I must have been asleep when they came out with those ADB scanners you refer to! I think SCSI was the hot ticket there, but probably more for ubiquity reasons.) RE USB/ADB, don’t you remember the cost of cables, the lack of (dependable) hot swapping, etc.? ADB was great in it’s time, but it was a bit long in the tooth and had no chance of entering broad use.
Compared to Firewire, USB was lame and broken, but compared to ADB, USB was fricking revolutionary.

Totally agree that LightPeak will make docking easier and better. As a plus it could allow small devices and laptops to have total connectivity to any device while enabling a mush smaller form factor, and power requirement (or room for more battery power.)
Another thing I see as interesting with multi-core processors, GCD, and related technologies that have recently emerged, is the possibility of seamless sharing of resources. Essentially instant syncing, sharing or offloading of computing resources, automatic behind the scenes plug and play XGrid functionality, constant topping off of batteries without thinking about it (is suitable power is built into the cable,) etc. Perhaps something like the new tablet and an iPhone (only one with a monthly data contract) could work together and deliver acceptable functionality of a desktop?

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