Friday, May 07, 2010

Intel Light Peak -- goodbye USB?

We have seen many examples of early prototypes of devices that eventually became main stream. Intel hopes to replace your USB cable with an optical link they are calling "Light Peak."

Here you see a demonstration of a laptop streaming two simultaneous HDTV programs to a television set. The black box between the laptop and display will eventually disappear, leaving a USB replacement.

Today's USB 2.0 connections have a speed of 480 Mbps, while Light Peak connections will begin at 10 Gbps in both directions. With mass production and engineering refinement, speeds would increase well beyond that. This is a common pattern -- one technology approaches its limit, and is then leapfrogged by a new technology.

This also seems to happening as electronic flash storage replaces rotating magnetic disk drives. Many portable devices already use electronic storage, and flash is beginning to be used in laptops and servers. (I've ordered my next laptop with flash storage).

If Light Peak succeeds (and it may not), it will dramatically alter the speed relationships between input/output and storage devices and memory, resulting in significant system redesign.

Can you think of other instances in which a new information technology has replaced an older one? What did we use for storage before hard drives?