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Intel Teases Its After-Thunderbolt Connector, With Laser Power

Intel tech is powering the Thunderbolt computer connector that may revolutionize how we hook up gear–but Intel is already working on its successor, due in 2015. It’s five times faster still, and uses lasers.

Pink Floyd laser

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Intel tech is powering the Thunderbolt computer connector that may revolutionize how we hook up gear–but Intel is already working on its successor, due in 2015. It’s five times faster still, and uses lasers.

The Thunderbolt system is a development of Light Peak–a system of serial data transmission that Intel has been working on for quite some while. In its current implementation it’s based on copper wires just like the rival USB 3 protocol, but is much faster. This week Intel showed its next-gen system, which is based on a different technology–silicon photonics.

When this system arrives, with its combination of laser diodes and fiber optic interconnects, it’ll be capable of carrying data at 50 gigabits per second, and can cope with cable lengths up to 100 meters (much further than electrical wiring because the light-based signal isn’t attenuated so much with distance). In comparison, Thunderbolt runs at 10 gigabits per second, bi-directionally–five times slower–and USB 3.0 runs at 5 gigabits per second.

Intel predicts it’ll have perfected the system by 2015 and it’ll be useful for the usual computers, tablets, smartphones that we’re used to hooking wires to today. But why will we want to adopt it? There’re a number of reasons as well as that fantastic speed, and they include price–the cables could end up being very cheap, and they’ll be skinnier than the chunky copper systems used for USB and even Thunderbolt. Perhaps the most surprising reason is that we may use the same connection to our HDTVs…but not the kind we’re used to, with 1080p-resolution screens. Instead, the bandwidth of Intel’s system is capable of supporting 4k TV. This may be the next-gen high-definition standard, currently finding use in some cinema-grade digital video cameras–it’s for screens that are 4,000 pixels wide, more than double 1080p TV’s resolution in both horizontal and vertical dimensions.

So do we need to worry about a short lifespan for Thunderbolt, even as its amazing promise is beginning to emerge? Nope–Intel sees the tech as being complimentary to its upcoming system (which has us wondering if the photonics future Intel had planned for Light Peak, and thus Thunderbolt, has now been evolved into a separate product). But you may want to start saving for that super-HD TV that will make your existing one look ridiculously low-tech in just four or five years.

[Image via Flickr, vissago]

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Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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