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In this paper we examine the optical sources of noise that degrade high-performance microwave photonic links. In particular, we study the residual phase noise due to laser frequency fluctuations and the detector nonlinearity on microwave signals transmitted on an optical fiber, or generated in the opto-electronic oscillator (OEO). Based on experimental findings, we identify a significant reduction of the relative intensity noise of the laser if the received optical power saturates the photodiode. Furthermore, we suggest the use of a semiconductor optical amplifier in saturation as yet another means to reduce the phase noise induced by laser intensity fluctuations. We also identify the use of multiple photodetectors to reduce the influence of associated 1/f noise, which adds to the phase noise of a transmitted microwave signal, and is the ultimate limitation to the phase noise of the high-performance OEO. Reduction of noise that is due to optical interferences is also addressed.