Wireless PCI Express Touted For PC Connectivity

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The humble PC’s internal cables could go totally wireless, as WiGig’s 60GHz spec is proposed to replace PCI Express

Two companies are working on a new wirelesss connectivity technology, which could remove the need to wire up the internals of a laptop or desktop PC.

The idea is to use short-range, high-speed connections at 60GHz, not just for connections between computers, but to link computer components such as screens, by providing a wireless alternative to the PCI Express (PCIe) expansion card system. It is being promoted by Atheros, a leader in conventional Wi-Fi chips, and Wilocity a start-up which designs silicon for fast links using 60GHz, according to the The Tech Report site.

60GHz wireless – can it go the distance?

The 60GHz wireless band is “unlicensed” and available for free use, just as the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands used by regular Wi-Fi, and potentially offers very high speeds up to mulitple Gigabits – although it will have a shorter range than normal Wi-Fi.

The idea has been promoted by industry consortia aiming to create a standard. The WiGig Alliance produced a standard specification, for a link at 7Gbps, which was offered to the Wi-Fi Alliance – a higher profile body which manages the Wi-Fi compatibility stickers on normal networking kit. WiGig got the Wi-Fi Alliance’s endorsement in May this year, and 60GHz is now a potential additional band for Wi-Fi communications, allowing much higher speeds over short distances.

WiGig links will provide very fast communications over short ranges, between devices such as TVs, phone and PCs, and the consortia includes big name backers such as Dell, Intel, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung, as well as the silicon makers including both Atheros and Wilocity).

Atheros and Wilocity plan to make devices that use 60GHz wireless technology, but as well as using it for ultra-high-speed networking, they intend to use it for for wireless PCI Express connectivity.

Wireless Connectivty

According to The Tech Report, Wireless PCIe chips should start sampling next year, and could allow a laptop to wirelessly connect with a display, storage device, or even auxiliary graphics processor. This would allow laptop users to switch to working on a bigger screen or access more data, without having to switch off or connect wires.

Even better, the same 60GHz wireless adapters will support 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands, so users can connect to existing Wi-Fi networks as well.

Wilocity has developed and trademarked wireless PCI Express (wPCIe). The way it apparently works is that wPCIe specifies a PCI Express switch with local and remote components that talk over a 60GHz connection. The remote components apparently go in a “DockingZone” (also copyrighted by Wilocity), which can can include any number of PCIe-compatible devices or controllers.

No OS Involvement

According to The Tech Report, the hypothetical DockingZone might have USB 3.0, eSATA, and FireWire controllers sitting alongside a graphics processor. It quoted Wilocity as saying that “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.”

Essentially this means the operating system remain oblivious to the wireless connections, or to put it another way, the wPCIe works transparently to the operating system.

Speed wise, Wilocity is proposing speeds up to 5Gbps (or 625MB/s in the normal “bytes per second” units used for PC buses), and that the spec should move “quickly” to 7Gbps (875MB/s). By comparison, PCI Express offers faster speeds, with 1GBps per lane, and up to 16 lanes.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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