PCI Express Breaks Ground on Optical Interconnect Technology for PCs
PC users familiar with SSDs understand their limitations, including their reliance on the PCI Express bus and their heat generation. The PCI Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG) is now developing a standardized optical interconnect to replace the current electrical bus found in PCs. This optical interconnect would use light instead of electrons, potentially reducing power consumption, heat generation, and resistance while improving overall performance.
PCI Express is a critical bus technology for PCs, connecting important components such as the processor, external GPU, and SSD. Any changes made to the PCI Express specification can significantly enhance the PC’s performance. Transitioning from electrical to optical interconnects would be a revolutionary advancement.
While optical PCIe is not expected to become a specification or an actual product anytime soon, the PCI Express 7 specification is set to be released in 2025, offering 128 gigatransfers per second. The PCI-SIG has yet to decide on the technology it will adopt for the optical interconnect. However, their goal is to make the PCIe architecture more optical-friendly and establish a common standard for manufacturers.
Using light to transmit data has been explored for over a decade, with Intel previously considering an optical replacement for USB. Silicon photonics, a technology capable of achieving speeds of 50Gbits per second, could serve as the foundation for an optical PCIe interconnect. The adoption of optics instead of electrons is driven by the need for sophisticated interconnects to support multi-core chips and reduce power consumption.
While servers and cloud computing may benefit from the early implementation of optical PCIe, the technology could eventually be integrated into PCs as well. The potential for PCs to utilize both photons and electrons in their operations may become a reality in the future.