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Intel Aims to Replace Cabling With Fiber Optics

Intel Fiber Optic
Intel is pushing fiber optics as a new standard for cabling.
Source: Intel

SAN FRANCISCO -- Day two of the Intel Developer Forum opened with news of the latest, fastest processors, but it was an low key announcement at the end of the keynote that may be the one that changes your life the most.

David "Dadi" Perlmutter, the newly-promoted co-lead of the Intel Architecture Group, disclosed "Light Peak," an Intel project to use fiber optic cables as replacements for the external cables used by PCs today.

Instead of the thick, hard to bend cables that connect monitors to PCs, short-range USB cables or the CAT-5 network wiring that can literally cause a datacenter floor to sag when used en masse, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) is proposing replacing all of those with fiber optics, which is literally as thin as a fiber and weighs next to nothing.

The fiber optic cables would initially have 10 gigabits of bi-directional bandwidth and could go to 100 gigabits, and could stretch more than 100 meters, according to Jason Ziller, director of the optical I/O program office at Intel.

Monitor cables generally run less than 10 feet and USB 3.0 cabling is limited to just three meters, although USB 2.0 ran up to five meters. "That's an example of why we need fiber in the future because as you go higher speed, you are sending signals over wires that are shorter and shorter," he explained.

In theory, these cables could carry data for multiple devices. This means data to the SAN, data to the network, audio, video and electricity. Ziller said there are two options for using fiber optic connections: either a single hub that connects numerous devices, or multiple ports into a computer, all using fiber.

When all is done, it could mean monitors that have one connector to the PC, not two (one for video out and one for power), and it would also mean no more using the large, multi-pin connections like SVGA in old monitors or DVI used in modern monitors.

Ziller said Intel will begin working with other hardware vendors to create new products as well as talk to standards bodies to make the fiber connections a standard.

"We want to work with the industry to standardize this technology for all market segments. As part of this standards process the companies we would work with would decide how it was powered and how the cables were used," he said.

Intel expects the components, such as discrete controllers and cables, to come out next year. Perlmutter had no estimated date on when product might come out.

Mobile power from Nehalem

During his keynote, Perlmutter also introduced the first mobile processors under the Nehalem architecture, all of them quad-core. The chips are from the "Clarksfield" line of Nehalem processors for mobile and will be sold under the names Core i7-920Xm Extreme, Core i7-820QM and Core i7-720Qm.

The processors come with Turbo Boost, a technology that cranks up the clock speed when fewer cores are in use. The 920Mx runs normally at 2.0GHz, but in single-core operation, it can reach 3.2GHz. These new processors support two-channel DDR3 1333MHz memory and PCI Express 2.0 graphics.

PC makers Asus, Dell, HP and Toshiba are the first to announce availability. It won't come cheap, at least on the high end. Pricing for OEMs in lots of 1,000 is $1,054 for the Core i7-920XM, $546 for the Core i7-820QM and $364 for the Core i7-720QM.

Perlmutter also said that Intel will release "Arrandale" early next year. This mobile processor will be the first 32nm Nehalem mobile chip and will come with 45nm graphics chip and chipset on the CPU.

IDF runs through Thursday.