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Intel takes aim at cable chaos with fibre-optic project

Intel takes aim at cable chaos with fibre-optic project

The mess of different cables hanging behind PCs could soon be replaced by a single, high-speed cable not much thicker than a piece of spaghetti.

The mess of different cables hanging behind television sets and PCs could soon be replaced by a single, high-speed cable not much thicker than a piece of spaghetti. At its annual developers forum, Intel revealed it was working on a universal fibre-optic cable that uses infra-red light to connect all sorts of home entertainment and computer devices to each other, and said it could be ready for adoption by electronics makers as early as 2010.

The cable technology, dubbed Light Peak, could also help PC manufacturers make laptops smaller, because the high number of different connectors now required on a laptop was one of the main impediments to shrinking the devices much further, said co-general manager of Intel's Architecture Group Dadi Perlmutter.

Mr Perlmutter demonstrated a prototype of the cable technology yesterday by connecting a PC to a TV screen about 10 metres away and playing a high-definition video over the connection. The cable, which Intel said had already gained interest from the likes of Sony, would initially be capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 10 gigabits a second, and would eventually run to speeds of 100 gigabits a second.

Even at the lower speed, that's more than 20 times the speed of USB connections, the most popular technology for connecting devices to computers, and roughly 200 times the capacity needed to carry a high-definition video image.

Not only is the cable much faster than conventional cables, it's capable of carrying signals much farther, too. While the USB cable used to connect a printer to a PC can be no longer than five metres, and while the HDMI cable connecting a set-top box to a high-definition TV can typically be no longer than 15 metres, a Light Peak cable can run to 100 metres, Intel said.

Additionally, the technology would be capable of carrying signals running a variety of protocols, Mr Perlmutter said, meaning it could equally be used to attach storage devices to high-powered computer servers, or a Blu-ray player to an LCD screen.

That means the entire office or house could be wired with the thin, flexible cable, and connect all the electronic devices together.

Though the components for the technology would be available next year, it would still be "many years from now" before the cable would be widely adopted, Mr Perlmutter said.

"We all know that legacy [technology] takes a long time to make a transition," he said.

Intel has a good track record of getting its technologies adopted by the computer and consumer electronics industries and was one of the main driving forces behind USB.

The company, however, faces stiff competition if it wants to see Light Peak universally adopted. Sony and other consumer electronics companies are already pursuing ultra-wideband (UWD) wireless technologies, which allow

entertainment devices to transfer data between each other without the need for cables at all.

Intel initially helped to develop UWD chips, but reportedly lost interest in the technology last year. Australian Financial Review

John Davidson attended the Intel Developer Forum as a guest of Intel.

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