Light Cables to Connect to Your Computer in a Year

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I recently had lunch with a friend who had just returned to Chicago after a few months at Intel Labs. During an interesting discussion on future directions in computer technology, he asked me to google the term "Light Peak Technology."

It turns out that Light Peak technology is the name of a revolutionary optical cable technology that will be unveiled in 2010. These optical cables will be designed to connect electronic devices with each other, replacing the electrical cables which are currently used. This is expected to hold many advantages; let's look at some of them.

The copper wires used in current electrical cables have limits to how fast they can carry data. If we wish to achieve faster and faster data transfer rates the industry will need to transition to a new kind of technology, and light is a promising candidate. The new fiber optic technology in question can transfer data at a rate of 10 Gb/second, a rate that may go up to 100 Gb/second in a few years. To get an idea of what this means, consider this: At a speed of 10 Gb/second you could transfer a full length Blu-Ray movie in less than 30 seconds.

Also, this new cable can carry several streams of data at once, which means no more multiple cables running back and forth between, say, a computer and its peripherals like the keyboard, external hard drive etc. All these will be replaced by a single thin and flexible optical cable. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

What could the possible minuses be? Because each cable needs a means to convert electrical signals to light and light to electrical signals, building components cheap enough to be mass produced is not a trivial task. It appears that the bulk of R&D efforts will need to focus on making these cables both cost effective and easy to manufacture. But, with a launch promised in this year, one can hope that many of the engineering hurdles have already been crossed.

So what does this mean for us? For starters, it means we will not be using our current USB cables at all, a couple of years from now. It also means we will be transferring data at rates faster than we can even dream of, today. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

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