PCI-SIG to concoct an alternative to Thunderbolt

As if the fight for supremacy between Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 weren’t bad enough, it now looks like a third contestant might enter the ring. That contestant is none other than the PCI Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG), the consortium that oversees the PCI Express specification. According to EE Times, PCI-SIG will soon "launch an effort" to create a new cable standard derived from the PCIe 3.0 spec.

This cable standard will reportedly be targeted at consumer applications. It will involve cables and connectors "flatter" than those currently used for Thunderbolt, and it should enable transfer speeds of up to 32Gbps (4GB/s). By contrast, Thunderbolt currently tops out at 10Gbps, or 1.25GB/s, per channel. EE Times doesn’t expect the upcoming PCIe cable spec to be complete for another two years, though, so I’m guessing Thunderbolt could get a speed boost by the time the first derived products hit stores.

Why a new standard? None of the details seem to be official right now, but EE Times quotes a source that says cabled PCIe 3.0 presents advantages for ultra-thin laptops and tablets. Thunderbolt is "interesting," the source claims, but the controller chips required to support it "don’t make business sense." PCI-SIG’s standard would be open and presumably cheaper to implement.

Running PCI Express through cables isn’t a new concept, by the way. PCI-SIG already has a PCIe External Cabling spec, although it’s based on an older, slower version of the standard. EE Times says that spec is geared for servers and data centers.

Comments closed
    • Krogoth
    • 8 years ago

    Yet another unnecessary interface for the desktop, laptop. There isn’t a killer app that requires more bandwidth than what USB 3.0 can provide.

    This guy and Thunderbolt/Light Perk are only useful for computing clusters and other niches that require extremely high external bandwidth.

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 8 years ago

      Laptop with external GPU when not on the road. There’s one for you.

        • Krogoth
        • 8 years ago

        External GPU doesn’t make sense for most laptop users. Laptops users want portability not cumbersome juggernauts.

        External GPUs are only good for certain niches that have need to have graphical power on the go (moblie workstations).

          • BobbinThreadbare
          • 8 years ago

          Yeah, a GPU that doesn’t have to go with the laptop doesn’t make sense because a laptop owner would want portability.

          Wait, what?

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            External GPU = seperate enclosure = extra baggage. External GPUs aren’t exacty small or light. They also need their own power source. Can you see why it goes against the laptop’s appeal of being “portable”?

            • BobbinThreadbare
            • 8 years ago

            I wonder if you are being intentionally dense.

            You would have an integrated GPU in the laptop for portability and an external when you needed more power.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            You aren’t seeing the general issue in regrads to most laptop users.

            They want something stratght-foward and portable.

            External GPU moves away from this goal. It is extra luggage that needs to be carry around if you want to use it on the go. I suppose that external GPU could be somewhat useful in a docking station type of setup. In that case, a dedicated desktop would most likely make more sense.

            The entire concept of external GPUs are niche at best.

            • bhassel
            • 8 years ago

            They are niche currently, because there is no good way to do it. A high bandwidth PCIe port would change that.

            Why have an entirely separate desktop system, which means dealing with keeping them in sync, multiple installs for each application/game, etc, when all you need is an external desktop-class GPU on you desk to turn your laptop into an all-purpose gaming machine?

            One laptop. Thin and light on the road, and effectively desktop-equivalent when at home.

      • floodo1
      • 8 years ago

      really? how about hooking one cable up that goes from my desktop to my monitor, and then another cable from my monitor to my raid array? these cables must carry both video and data.

      try doing that with usb 3.0

        • Krogoth
        • 8 years ago

        You are describing “clustering” computing. An area where Light Peak, Thunderbolt and External PCIe make sense. The problem is that kind of application isn’t mainstream. That’s precisely why none of the aforementioned interfaces will replace USB 3.

    • Bauxite
    • 8 years ago

    FWIW, you can sort of do this already with expresscard/minicard adapters (or multiples thereof) that connect to a board with a standard pci-e slot. (www.hwtools.net)

    1.0 signaling (2.5Gb/channel) is easy over repurposed mini hdmi cables, 2.0 (5Gb/channel) is still picky but doable.

    Getting the laptop bios/chipset flags to not be retarded about the port assignments and memory space for video cards is the hardest part honestly. But you really can run a midrange desktop card on the bandwidth and blow away the anemic laptop gpus.

    TB can get bent since so far its only showing up from the two kings of proprietary bullcrap (apple and sony) and intel clearly doesn’t want it to be widespread and useful.

    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    That’s the nice thing about unifying standards: there’s so many of them…

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 8 years ago

    It sure would be nice to even replace USB with PCIe and eventually throw out southbridges altogether. Nobody seems to want to spend the money to integrate the few remaining controllers into the CPU, but PCIe is already there in low power mobile CPUs. Time to use it.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      Within a few generations we’ll probably see pretty much evberything in the southbridge integrated, then just a few addon chips for whatever latest spec is out that was too late for the CPU party.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 8 years ago

    It’s in Intel’s best interests to keep the cost for Thunderbolt low/minimal.

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 8 years ago

      …Until it reaches market saturation. Then they can lock everyone out of the next revision or force them to beg for a licensing agreement. See any third party chipset manufacturer’s history with Intel for evidence.

      This is the problem with standards that aren’t free and clear. You never know when the controlling party is going to turn on you.

    • NeelyCam
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]It will involve cables and connectors "flatter" than those currently used for Thunderbolt, and it should enable transfer speeds of up to 32Gbps (4GB/s). By contrast, Thunderbolt currently tops out at 10Gbps, or 1.25GB/s, per channel. [/quote<] It's 32Gbps with four channels (PCIe 3.0 is 8Gbps/channel). Thunderbolt does 10Gbps with a single channel. (AFAIK, Thunderbolt cable has two channels in either direction, or two bidirectional channels, for a total of 40Gbps per cable.) So, this option doesn't match TB's data rate, but the PCIe 4.0 version would double the data rate... in four years (I wonder where TB is going to be then...) [quote<]Thunderbolt is "interesting," the source claims, but the controller chips required to support it "don't make business sense." PCI-SIG's standard would be open and presumably cheaper to implement.[/quote<] This is key. TB controller chips are probably pricey (Intel likes to make money), but this PCIe-based cable standard is open.

      • Hattig
      • 8 years ago

      Presumably it’s 32Gbps in both directions, so 64Gbps total, in comparison to Thunderbolt’s 40Gbps. In addition the data encoding for PCIe3 is more efficient, so it will actually have a usable bandwidth double that of Thunderbolt.

      But in two years Thunderbolt will presumably also switch to tunnelling PCIe3 instead of PCIe2.

      However I am all in favour of an open, non-proprietary solution, especially one that doesn’t require a special translator chip from Intel on every device and host.

    • d34thly
    • 8 years ago

    Thunderbolt has the ability to scale to 100GB per second. I can’t wait to be able to transfer ALL the pron I’ve ever owned in 90 seconds~!

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      You’re gonna need some mighty big SSDs for that…

        • sweatshopking
        • 8 years ago

        or to actually get a life. either one.

          • dashbarron
          • 8 years ago

          Long time no see SSK. We’ve just had Potato-guy-troll to contend with –at least you’re a lot nicer.

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 8 years ago

      Something about a three way and the fight to be everyone’s favorite hole flashes to mind.

    • bthylafh
    • 8 years ago

    YAY GRATUITOUS STANDARDS WAR.

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