Intel: Thunderbolt optical cabling coming this year

Intel Thunderbolt logoUsers will be able to connect Thunderbolt-equipped peripherals to remote hosts using optical cabling in 2012, Intel told IDG News Service on Monday. The company reaffirmed its commitment to get optical cabling on the market this year, which will allow much longer cable runs beyond the current three meter limit. This, in turn, will allow the technology to achieve higher transmission speeds in the future.

Thunderbolt originally began life as an optical cable interconnect dubbed "LightPeak." By the time it reached the market in early 2011, however, optical cabling was abandoned for standard copper. Copper cabling offered the advantage of lower cost as well as the ability to send as much as 10W of power to peripherals, while still matching the originally planned 10Gbps bidirectional data rate. Still, copper cabling can only reach approximately six meters theoretical maximum, and won't be able to scale much beyond 10Gbps.

Optical cabling will allow cabling runs as long as "tens of meters," perhaps as long as the length of a football field. However, devices won't be able to receive power at that distance—impedance issues would make sending up to 10W impractical, Intel spokesperson Dave Salvatore said.

Using fiber optics will also enable Thunderbolt to push beyond 10Gbps to speeds planned as high as 100Gbps by the end of this decade. Intel promised optical cabling would come sometime in 2012 last year, and it plans to stand by that promise, though solid release dates or pricing still haven't been announced.

Thunderbolt adoption has been limited so far by a few factors. One is that the technology is only currently available on Macs, though several PC vendors have Thunderbolt-equipped machines ready for release when Intel ships its next-generation Ivy Bridge platform. Also, the number of peripherals available has been small, though a couple dozen products should be shipping within the next couple of months. Finally, Apple has so far been the only source of Thunderbolt cables. The company's $50 cable should be joined by at least one other option soon—hopefully at a lower price.

Optical cabling that will be released this year will likely be limited to niche uses that require a peripheral to be as much as a couple hundred feet from a host machine. The cabling will be expensive, too—cost of optical cabling was one of the reasons Intel cited for its decision to launch Thunderbolt with a copper interconnect. However, optical cabling will be backwards compatible due to a design that includes a transceiver at each end of a Thunderbolt cable.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Intel, Thunderbolt

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