Intel connects PCs to devices using light

Intel hopes to use optical technology to connect mobile devices to storage and displays

Intel is working on a new optical interconnect that could possibly link mobile devices to displays and storage up to 100 meters away, a company official said on Wednesday.

The company is researching the Light Peak optical interconnect technology, which could communicate data between systems and devices associated with PCs at speeds of up to 10Gbps, said David Perlmutter, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobility group. The technology uses light to speed up data transmission between mobile devices and connected devices like storage, networking, and audio devices, the company said.

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For example, Light Peak could help improve the quality of high-definition video on displays, Perlmutter said during a speech at the Intel Developer Forum trade show in San Francisco. Company officials demonstrated a thin cable that connected a monitor to a gaming PC many meters away. Data was transmitted from the PC using Light Peak technology to the monitor, which retained its video quality despite the long distance.

The technology could help transfer a full-length Blu-ray movie in less than 30 seconds, according to an entry about the technology posted on Intel's site. Light Peak can run multiple protocols simultaneously over a single cable, enabling mobile devices to perform tasks over multiple connected devices at the same time.

"Optical technology also allows for smaller connectors and longer, thinner, and more flexible cables than currently possible," according to the Intel entry. It could also lead to thinner and fewer connectors on mobile devices, Perlmutter said.

Existing cable technology uses electricity to transfer data, which has limits in speed and length, according to the entry on Intel's site. Light Peak uses light to transfer data, which can reach longer distances compared to electricity. The platform includes a controller chip and an optical module that performs the conversion from electricity to light and vice versa.

The new technology could compete with connector technologies like USB and FireWire, which are used to connect PCs to storage and audio devices. However, Light Peak is not intended to replace current technologies, an Intel spokesperson said. It is intended to be a complementary technology.

Components based on the optical technology could ship in 2010, and Intel is working with optical component manufacturers. Intel is trying to making the technology a standard by working with the industry, which could help boost its adoption in mobile devices, consumer electronics, and PCs. Sony has already expressed an interest in the technology, Perlmutter said.

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