We may not yet know much about Intel’s new Light Peak interconnect technology, but one thing has remained constant: A goal of 10 Gb/s of throughput. Considering that Intel already produces a variety of relatively-inexpensive 10 Gb Ethernet products, it is not a stretch of the imagination that they could apply this technology to Light Peak (even without the light).
Note: This was written before the official announcement by Apple of Thunderbolt. The facts remain the same, however!
It’s hard to compare big numbers: Just how fast is 10 gigabits per second anyway? To help out, I’ve prepared another napkin-tastic infographic!
This illustration shows the number of ports required to match a single 10 Gb/s Light Peak connection (or 10 GbE link) in terms of real-world throughput. I used my own benchmarks to come up with real-world performance. Since these average 80% efficiency, I estimated that Light Peak would deliver 80% of its theoretical bandwidth, or just about 1000 Megabytes per second.
It’s important to remember that, despite the doom and gloom predictions, Light Peak is not intended to replace any existing port type. It is a high-speed interconnect for multiplexing these protocols. In other words, a Light Peak connection will carry multiple USB 3.0, FireWire, Ethernet, or other signals not some new special protocol. And Light Peak probably won’t use light at all at first: It will run over conventional copper wiring, perhaps combined with USB 3.0!
It’s fun to imagine what such a port would mean to the physical design of portable computers. A future MacBook Air could have a single combined port carrying either USB 3.0 or 10 Gb/s Light Peak over copper (“Copper Peak”?). This could connect to a “dock” or break-out box, or perhaps the ports could be embedded in a monitor or even the power adapter. This remote block could include everything we might need: 1 Gb Ethernet, FireWire 800, USB 3.0, and ExpressCard (PCI-over-Light Peak isn’t that far-fetched).
About the only thing Light Peak will have difficulty carrying is full-bandwidth video. Apple’s current DisplayPort cables already carry 10.2 Gb/s of data, and the DisplayPort signal driving a 27″ 2650×1600 display would saturate a Light Peak connection. Unless Apple has something up their sleeve (multi-link Light Peak?) we’re not yet looking at single-port computers!