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Light Peak versus USB 3.0
By Alvin Soon - on 22 Feb 2010, 11:50am

Those of us a little older will remember the confusing days of multiple cables and ports, but thanks to USB - the one port to rule them all - the world of computer connectivity is a lot easier these days.

But just as connectivity didn’t stay still in the era of parallel ports, neither is USB staying still today. USB 1.0, first released in 1996, transferred data at a rate of 1.5 Mbit/s to 12 Mbit/s. USB 2.0, the most common standard in use today, was released in 2000, bumped the transfer speeds up to a high of 480 Mbit/s, and was easily adopted as the cable heads and ports remained the same as USB 1.0’s.

The USB 3.0 standard was finalized in late 2008; it promises even faster transfer speeds of up to 4.8 Gbit/s and the first USB 3.0 products are already appearing in the market. It's a welcome update to an aging standard, back in 2000 hardly anyone was dealing with gigabytes of files, but today they've become the norm and USB 2.0 just isn't cutting it anymore. The physical form factors for USB 3.0 is backwards-compatible with USB 1.0 and 2.0, so adoption for the new standard should be faster compared to when USB first emerged.

If Intel has their say however, the future of computer connectivity won't be in USB, but in a technology called Light Peak. At the Intel Developers Forum held in September 2009, Intel demoed a prototype of Light Peak. While copper wires are used in USB cables, Light Peak uses a fiber optic cable. This translates to much faster transfer speeds of 10 Gbit/s, which Intel claims could be improved to 100 Gbit/s within the decade.

Intel also claims that Light Peak can support everything from storage to displays to networking, so in effect, a Light Peak cable and port could do everything your present cables and ports do, and you’d only need one - that is, if manufacturers adopt the standard. Even though Light Peak hasn't been seen since the prototype demo in 2009, Intel CEO Paul Otellini recently gave a short update on the technology earlier this year at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show.

Just like USB triumphed over SCSI and parallel ports nearly ten years ago, we’re poised to see a new dominant standard emerge in the next couple of years - the only question is which it will be.

Alvin Soon

Alvin Soon / Deputy Editor

I like coffee and cameras, but not together.