Intel's Ga-Ga for GigE

Releases Gigabit Ethernet chips using its own silicon and intros high-end server adapters

March 18, 2003

3 Min Read
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Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) today released Gigabit Ethernet chips using the company's own silicon, and also rolled out two high-end network adapters aimed at servers.

So far, Intel's GigE controllers have incorporated physical-layer devices (PHYs) from Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL). But word at last month's Intel Developer Forum was that Intel was giving private demonstrations of a Marvell-free Ethernet chip, as reported by Light Reading, Byte and Switch's sister publication (see Intel Readies GigE PHY Chip).

Intel isn't giving up the Marvell relationship just yet. Marvell officials have noted they're continuing to work with Intel on new products. And Intel officials aren't wedded to the idea of using all-Intel silicon for Gigabit Ethernet.

"We will use the technology that's most appropriate for the application," says Tim Dunn, vice president of Intel's communications group.

The first of Intel's new chips, the Pro/1000 CT, uses the CSA bus developed by Intel as a faster alternative to the commonly used PCI bus. A standard called PCI Express will take care of the speed problem, but Intel didn't want to wait for the standardization process.The Pro/1000 MT, Intel's other chip announced today, does use the PCI bus and targets mobile devices. Dunn says Intel doesn't intend to offer CSA for mobile devices, because by the time the mobile market needs a new bus -- in 2004 or 2005 -- PCI Express will be ready.

Also today, Intel introduced two high-end server adapters. The PRO/10GbE LR Server Adapter targets servers, particularly for clustering and for large database applications. Intel claims the card is the first to allow a maximum 10 Gbit/s of traffic in a single slot. The PRO/10GbE uses the PCI-X bus, an intermediate step between PCI and PCI Express. PCI-X is faster than PCI and uses a wider bus structure, which allows more data to share the connection at a time. But there's a limit to how much faster and wider these buses can get, so the industry is developing PCI Express, which will aggregate sets of 2-Gbit/s serial links, creating a more elegant way of pushing bandwidth numbers up.

The other card, the PRO/1000 MT Quad Port Server Adapter, combines four 1-Gbit/s ports onto a single card -- something that Intel didn't anticipate having to do until customer requests started coming in.

"There never seem to be enough connections to these systems," Dunn says. "A typical server in a data center will have a primary connection into a LAN and a secondary connection for backup -- that's two. They may also have a connection to storage area networking, and they need a backup for that, too."

Meanwhile, Intel joined the XFP race with the TXN18107 module for singlemode fiber. XFP is a multisource agreement (MSA) for a 10-Gbit/s serial transponder, as opposed to the parallel 10-Gbit/s transponders currently sold.Most 10-Gbit/s transponders use a 300-pin MSA, but several alternatives are en route. The Xenpak MSA is in place, and systems using Xenpak modules should begin shipping this spring, says Bob Zona, senior product marketing manager of Intel's optical platform division.

Xenpak's size is a handicap, as its development was rushed to accommodate OEMs' product schedules. The smaller XPAK and X2 MSAs will correct the size problem while still splitting 10-Gbit/s feeds into slower parallel streams (see Is Xenpak Past It?).

The TXN18107 was developed by the former LightLogic Inc., acquired by Intel in 2000. Intel expects to be sampling by the end of March and will be showing the module at the upcoming OFC Conference.

Naturally, Intel's not the only XFP player turning up the buzz for OFC. Other companies that have made XFP announcements today -- either entire modules or the critical electronics for modules -- include BitBlitz Communications Inc., Infineon Technologies AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: IFX), and Quake Technologies Inc. Other announcements arrived last week from MergeOptics GmbH and Multilink Technology Corp. (Nasdaq: MLTC), timed to coincide with CeBIT.

Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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