Apple Driving Force Behind Intel’s Light Peak

When Intel unveiled its Light Peak optical interconnect (video) at IDF earlier this week, many noticed that the demonstration computer used to show the new technology was in fact a hackintosh. Well, thanks to Engadget we now know why: Apple is very, very involved in the conception of Light Peak. Let’s take this opportunity to look at some of Apple’s other connection standards from the past.

Apple sees the light

Many assumed that Intel was the main driving force behind the creation of Light Peak, but as it turns out, it’s actually Apple who is behind the whole idea. Of course, optical interconnects are anything but new (fibre-optic communication stems from the 1970s), but Apple brought the concept of Light Peak to Intel. Intel then developed it, and showed it off earlier this week. On a hackintosh. Mystery solved.

According to documents seen by Engadget, Apple first brought the concept of a super-fast optical interconnect to Intel in 2007, with the goal of replacing the several standards we use today (USB, FireWire, various display ports). In fact, initial conversations and disagreements took place directly between Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel.

Apple has grand plans for the technology, according to Engadget. It will start off with the ability to daisy-chain several peripherals into a single Light Peak port, with later plans involving Light Peak replacing every other port. In other words, all your networking, peripheral, and display needs will go through (a) Light Peak port(s).

The technology will arrive sooner rather than later, according to Engadget. The first Macs to have this new technology on board will arrive in Autumn 2010, and a low-power variant will arrive in 2011, destined for mobile equipment. While the full plans are not entirely clear, it looks like Apple is pushing hard for a single-port solution for all peripherals and communication needs. They could even skip USB 3.0 altogether (or at least not emphasize it too much). I do wonder, however, how Light Peak plans on sending power though the cables, something for example USB is able to do. CNet is reporting that Intel is planning on adding copper to the cable for power transfer.

Apple and ports

Assuming this is all indeed quite true, this won’t be the first port standard introduced by Apple. In the mid-1980s, Steve Wozniak was looking for a project to work on, and someone suggested he create a new peripheral connection system. The story goes that he returned a month later with the Apple Desktop Bus, a bit-serial computer bus (it looked like a ps/2 connector) which could daisy-chain devices together.

It would be used on Macs from 1986 (Apple IIgs) up until it was superseded by USB on the iMac in 1998 – however, Apple’s laptops kept on using it internally until February 2005. ADB never really gained any traction beyond the Mac platform, although it was occasionally used by Sun, HP, and NEXT.

Another Apple connection standard was the Apple Display Connector, a proprietary modification of DVI, which combined digital & analog video, USB, and power signals all in one cable. It was introduced in 2000 on the PowerMac G4 and G4 Cube, and was used to connect to the Apple Cinema Displays of the time. In July 2004, the new Cinema Displays with an aluminium shell and DVI connector appeared, which sounded the death knell for ADC. The last Mac to ship with an ADC connector was the single-processor PowerMac G5, which stopped shipping in June 2005.

A standard which didn’t die, but never gained the traction Apple had hoped for, is FireWire. Even though Apple didn’t create it, they did initiate it in 1986, but it was eventually developed by the IEEE P1394 Working Group. While Apple played a major role in its inception, other companies also contributed to its development, like Texas Instruments, Sony, DEC, and IBM. While FireWire “lost” the battle with USB, it is still used in a lot of specialised markets.

Every now and then, people will claim Apple invented the USB standard, but this is a misunderstanding. In fact, Apple played no role in the inception of USB, as it was developed by Compaq, Digital, IBM, Intel, Northern Telecom, and Microsoft. The first specification, USB 1.0, was completed in 1996. Some do claim Apple popularised USB by switching to it on the very first iMac.

As you can see, Apple has quite the history when it comes to these matters. Let’s hope they are able to make Light Peak a success, as the promised speeds and daisy-chaining abilities sound too cool not to have.


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