Intel Develops 50 Gbps Transfer Technology

Silicon Photonics Link technology is expected to provide higher speeds than DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.0.

Chandler Harris, Contributor

April 29, 2011

3 Min Read

Intel is developing a data transfer protocol the company says will be capable of 50 Gbps transfers over distances of up to 100 meters.

With a 50 Gbps speed limit, Intel's Silicon Photonics Link technology is expected to provide higher speed interconnection than what is currently available and a successor to DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (TB) and USB 3.0 external interconnection technologies.

While Intel says the technology should be released sometime in 2015, the promise it delivers is exciting: faster data transfers between smartphones, tablets, PCs, and peripherals like external hard drives. Intel also says the technology can also be used in TVs and set-top boxes to transfer video streams at speeds comparable to transmitting an entire HD movie every second.

"This achievement of the world's first 50Gbps silicon photonics link with integrated hybrid silicon lasers marks a significant achievement in our long term vision of 'siliconizing' photonics and bringing high-bandwidth, low-cost optical communications in and around future PCs, servers, and consumer devices," said Justin Rattner, chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs, in a statement.

Intel announced last year it developed the prototype high-speed Photonics Link integrated onto silicon, yet now the company is setting a 2015 timeline.

The 50 Gbps Silicon Photonics Link prototype is composed of a silicon transmitter and receiver chip. Four lasers make up the transmitter chip, and their light beams encode data from within an optical modulator at 12.5 Gbps. Once the four beams are combined, they become a single optical fiber for a total data rate of 50 Gbps, Intel said. A receiver chip at the other end of the link separates the four optical beams and directs them into photo detectors that convert data back into electrical signals, according to Intel.

Intel's Silicon Photonics technology is expected to reduce costs and reach data rates in the tera-scale--fast enough to transfer a copy of everything on a typical laptop in one second, the company said.

The new transfer technology comes right on the heels of Intel's release of its Thunderbolt high-speed PC connection technology. Thunderbolt transfers data between devices at up to 10 Gbps, which is about twice the speed of USB 3.0 and 12 times faster than FireWire 800.

"You get workstation I/O [input/output] performance in a laptop," said Jason Ziller, director of Thunderbolt marketing, at the MacBook Pros event.

Intel is positioning Thunderbolt as a "complement" to USB 3.0, the latest USB open standard that is starting to make its way into devices. Ziller said Intel believes Thunderbolt will initially be offered as an additional port on professional devices, with consumer devices supporting the technology later.

Apple is the only computer manufacturer that uses Thunderbolt, yet other companies that will release Thunderbolt-enabled products include Aja, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, LaCie, Promise, and Western Digital. However, the largest computer makers, such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell, have not announced implementation of it.

Intel said it is working with manufacturers on a number of Thunderbolt-enabled devices, including computers, displays, storage, audio/visual, cameras, and docking stations.

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