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Comms chips

Aeluros Slips Into SerDes Market

Aeluros Inc. is a startup that has joined the swelling ranks of chip makers specializing in serializer-deserializer (SerDes) technology. The big question now is whether its low-power edge is enough to beat out larger players.

We already knew the company had packed multiple SerDes onto a test chip (see Aeluros Aims at High-Speed CMOS). Yesterday, Aeluros announced sampling of its first real product, named Puma -- a chip that translates from a 10-Gbit/s serial feed to XAUI, the standard Ethernet interface that uses four channels of 3.125 Gbit/s apiece.

(In other news, Aeluros officials dropped the accent gràve from the company name, as it caused confusion on some search engines.)

Puma is targeted at optical transceivers. It could sit inside a Xenpak, XPAK, or X2 module, performing the XAUI-to-10-Gigabit translation for them. Or it could sit alongside an XFP module, translating the module's serial 10-Gbit/s output into slower-speed lanes that can more easily traverse a circuit board.

Puma's trump card is its low power, and the number's been dropping as Aeluros engineers have worked with the test chips they got in December. Company officials had been quoting power consumption of 885 mW; that figure is now down to 800 mW, says Dave Gamba, vice president of marketing.

No competitor has a part consuming less than 1 W of power, according to our recent report (see PHY Chips). A couple of hundred milliwatts can be a huge deal at such low power budgets, so Aeluros might really be on to something.

The secret comes from knowing how to exploit the foundry process. Nearly every semiconductor company gets its chips built by a foundry; in Aeluros's case, it's Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) (NYSE: TSM). According to Gamba, TSMC puts a bit of safety margin into its chip designs, holding back on some design possibilities that might be more cutting-edge but could result in a faulty batch of chips.

"By wringing out that margin, you can really bring the power down," Gamba says -- keeping the specifics under wraps, naturally. "Quite a few of our team come from Rambus Inc., where they're able to take very high-speed technology, map it to different [manufacturing] process technology, and ramp it to volume."

Lower power is a big deal for systems vendors, because it allows for higher-density systems. But it might not be enough to let Aeluros stand out in a market already populated by a flurry of startups and a few big players.

"If the power really is 800 mW, and they have fully functional silicon, they could win designs ahead of the smaller competitors such as BitBlitz Communications Inc. and Multilink Technology Corp.," says Simon Stanley, principal analyst for Earlswood Marketing Ltd., in an email to Light Reading. "I do think however that the recently announced BCM8703 from Broadcom Corp. will be good enough to keep them leading this market, together with Quake Technologies Inc."

It's a tough world. But look on the bright side: It's gotten a little less tough on Aeluros now that the company has real semiconductors to sample to customers, Gamba says.

"Some people didn't communicate with us for three months. Then we get the part back [from the foundry] and zing, it's: 'What's your power? Get me a board!' "

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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