Exciting things are afoot in wireless networking. Based on the work of the WiGig Alliance (which we’ve already told you all about), Atheros and Wilocity plan to make devices that use 60GHz wireless technology not just for ultra-high-speed networking, but also for wireless PCI Express connectivity.
These devices should start sampling next year, and based what Wilocity told us, they’ll allow notebooks to connect to displays, storage devices, and even auxiliary graphics processors, all wirelessly. The same 60GHz wireless adapters will support 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands, as well, so they’ll let you connect to existing Wi-Fi networks.
Here, the key to wireless peripheral connectivity is wireless PCI Express (wPCIe), a technology Wilocity developed (and subsequently trademarked). The company’s whitepaper has all the nitty-gritty details, but the diagram below does a pretty good job of summing it up:
Essentially, wPCIe specifies a PCI Express switch with local and remote components that talk over a 60GHz connection. The remote components go in the DockingZone (another Wilocity trademark), which can include any number of PCIe-compatible devices or controllers. A hypothetical DockingZone might have, say, USB 3.0, eSATA, and FireWire controllers sitting alongside a graphics processor. The neat part is that, in Wilocity’s words, “the switch appears as if it is co-located in a single location. Therefore, the software used to configure and manage the switch is identical to that of legacy switches/bridges.” Translation: the operating system doesn’t need to know there’s any wireless tomfoolery going on.
Wilocity told us that wPCIe can push bits at up to 5Gbps (625MB/s), and that the spec should move “quickly” to 7Gbps (875MB/s). Assuming that doesn’t account for the 8b/10b encoding used by PCI Express, you can expect PCIe transfer rates of up to 500MB/s at first, which is equivalent to two lanes of first-gen PCI Express connectivity. That’s probably not enough for a proper graphics card, but as we found while reviewing Zotac’s Zbox HD-ID11 nettop, an Nvidia Ion GPU hooked up over a single gen-one lane can still crank out decent frame rates in casual games at 1080p.
Of course, cheap netbooks won’t be the first systems to start toting 60GHz adapters—Wilocity expects the technology to debut in high-end systems. We’re told there’s nothing inherently more costly about 60GHz technology, though, so support may not take long to trickle down to cheaper machines.