Intel Develops 50Gb/s Silicon Photonics-Based Successor for Thunderbolt, DisplayPort Technologies

Intel Creates New Data Transfer Protocol, Interconnect for Release in 2015

by Anton Shilov
04/28/2011 | 03:12 PM

Intel Corp. is developing a successor for DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (TB) and USB 3.0 external interconnection technologies. The tech will employ a new transfer protocol as well as new type of physical interconnection that involves silicon photonics. The new interface is projected to be unveiled in 2015.


The next-generation external interconnection technology will be based on silicon photonics components with optical cables and will be able to transfer data with up to 50Gb/s speed over distances up to 100 meters. The new interconnect will also use new data transfer protocols. The silicon photonics components will be manufactured using conventional silicon manufacturing technology, which will make it less expensive compared to technologies that combine electrical and optical devices on a single chip.

“We have to use the silicon manufacturing technologies we know. That is what the promise of the technology is. It is based on a silicon foundation,” said Jeff Demain, strategy director of circuits and system research at Intel Labs, reports IDG News Service.

Thanks to new technologies available in 2015, the post-Thunderbolt (PTB) interconnect will be relatively affordable. As a result, Intel believes that it will be used in personal computers, tablets, smartphones, televisions and all other electronics. In general, the new PTB will rather be a replacement for DisplayPort, HDMI, TB, USB and many others. Intel believes that resolutions will quadruple by 2015 and those ultra high-definition (UHD) resolutions will need very fast data interconnections.

At present the data transfer protocols of the new interconnection technology are not described, but the Intel director said that they it would support PCI Express and DisplayPort among other things.

The world’s largest maker of semiconductors reportedly demonstrated what it said were working prototypes of the silicon chips used to transmit and receive the laser signals. It showed mock-ups of the cables that will carry the data, but those were not working samples and Intel did not show the interconnect technology in action. The cables will be thinner than those utilized for Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

With optical cables involved, the next-generation post-Thunderbolt (post-Light Peak) interconnection technology will just be what the Light Peak, which promised to transfer data at up to 100Gb/s data-rate, was meant to be. Moreover, the projected performance of the post-Thunderbolt (PTB) means that the existing high-end interconnect will hardly scale by ten times in the next four years. But Thunderbolt will not be abandoned and will co-exist with the PTB in 2015.