Intel Light Peak tech coming--will Apple follow?

The tech--developed by Intel and backed by Apple--allows for very-high-speed connections on both PCs and Macs.

A technology developed by Intel and backed by Apple is expected to appear earlier than previously thought, paving the way for very-high-speed connections on both PCs and Macs.

Intel demonstrating Light Peak back in 2009.
Intel demonstrating Light Peak back in 2009. Intel

Light Peak is now on track to appear in products in the first half of 2011--and likely earlier in the year than later, according to an industry source familiar with the progress of the technology. Light Peak--proposed as an underlying protocol that will host other protocols like USB or DisplayPort--will carry data at 10 gigabits per second in both directions simultaneously.

Apple is expected to back Light Peak, if past comments from Intel still hold. Shortly after its annual developer conference in 2009 , Intel said that it had showed the technology to third parties, got feedback, then incorporated the feedback into the next design, adding, at that time, that "Apple is an innovating force in the industry." ( Apple has reportedly claimed that it conceived the idea for Light Peak.)

If Apple implements Light Peak, it would be a safe bet that the company will have a lot to say about the technology--maybe with a catchy name in tow. And it would probably not be wild speculation to say that Apple would want to be the first to use it.

An Intel demonstration in 2009 at its developer conference used a machine running Apple's Mac OS X. And Sony has, in the past, endorsed Light Peak also.

Apple did not respond to questions.

Whither USB 3.0?
Though USB 3.0 has arrived, it hasn't arrived on Apple's MacBooks nor on most PCs . The current USB 2.0 standard, which is found on virtually all laptops today, has been around a long time--indeed, too long for some consumers' tastes. Intel laid the groundwork for widespread use of USB 2.0 on PCs and devices in spring 2002 when it put the technology in its chipsets. And there's the rub. USB 2.0 is universal, USB 3.0--because it's not supported in Intel chipsets--is not, despite being up to 10 times faster.

And there are other reasons cited for the lack of a dire need for USB 3.0. Peripheral devices, like printers, don't benefit from moving to 3.0. And a number of laptops already ship with the faster eSATA standard or FireWire (in the case of the MacBook), which Intel supports in its mobile chipsets.

What's Intel's stance on USB 3.0? "We are absolutely committed to USB 3.0 and beyond that," said an Intel spokesperson. But don't expect USB 3.0 support in Intel chipsets anytime soon. Some credible speculation puts this as far out as 2012.

That said, not everyone is necessarily waiting for Light Peak with bated breath. There are reports of Light Peak detractors, who claim it won't be widely implemented and that PC makers are, instead, gearing up for USB 3.0. But the USB 3.0 start-up phase has been going on for a long time. Moreover, USB 3.0 is now available on laptops from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Asus, and Toshiba (laptop port replicator, in Toshiba's case) but only very selectively. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

See Intel Light Peak demonstration.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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