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Comms chips

Agere Launches Line-Card Kits

Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR.A) is formalizing some of its reference design work, offering ready-made line cards in a program similar to the Ethernet switches being built by fellow chip maker Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

Its "Festino," launched at Supercomm this week, aims to compensate for the R&D cuts OEMs have made. At its simplest level, the program involves Agere handing over a bag o' parts including some components from partners -- Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Exar Corp. (Nasdaq: EXAR) were two such announced. If requested, Agere will also ship its design-tool databases, providing the software elements used in designing the card.

At a deeper level, Festino can involve the shipping of completed cards built by contract manufacturer Celestica Inc. (NYSE, Toronto: CLS). Technically, Celestica would be the one selling these cards, using chips purchased from Agere and partners.

Reference designs are routine for chip makers. The idea is to show off how the chip works by putting it in a live system -- often, it's enough to plop it onto a board and connect the board to a couple of testers.

Chip firms in the communications space are expanding the idea, however. It's well known that vendors of all stripes have cut staff, and that's left most systems companies with limited R&D resources. It's fallen on the chip companies to take up the slack, providing some of the validation testing and the software that an OEM used to do itself.

The trend gets more pronounced as one considers lower-end systems. Marvell takes the idea about as far as possible, building ready-to-ship Gigabit Ethernet switches for Taiwanese vendors (see Marvell's Ethernet Switch Kit).

The idea seems to work. One customer says its R&D costs have been cut in half by Agere's help, says Mark Wilson, director of systems applications for Agere.

For Agere, Festino becomes kind of a recycling program. Its engineers have to develop these boards for their own tests anyway, and they usually end up with "a superset of what a customer would want on a line card," Wilson says.

"Festino" originally referred to the chassis Agere used for in-house network-processor development, and last year it was launched at Supercomm as a base for network-processor reference designs (see Agere Unveils Development Platform). This week's announcement expands the concept to include parts such as framers and mappers; it's not 100 percent related, but Agere decided to keep the Festino name for simplicity's sake.

Festino includes three types of cards: optical transport; aggregation and grooming (of T1s and the like); and "converged network solutions," which generally means packet-over-Sonet or ATM-over-Sonet. Pricing details aren't being released.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

gea 12/4/2012 | 11:58:14 PM
re: Agere Launches Line-Card Kits With a lot of equipment these days the "value added" is going to be in the software anyway, so it only makes sense that companies like Marvell and Agere integrate this far into the product.

chips_ahoy 12/4/2012 | 11:58:13 PM
re: Agere Launches Line-Card Kits this seems like a pretty smart move by agere.
currently, all vendors provide some level of design service anyway. most oem's have recognized that (especially) with highly integrated deveices, it's fairly easy to make a critical design mistake if you're not very familiar with the part. so, even if oem's don't copy a referrence design, they will almost always leverage a vendor's expertise with at least an informal design review. finally, chip vendors have come to realize that winning the socket is good but getting to production is the real prize and every oem klooj or re-spin puts that further into the future.

(i don't work for agere.)
alchemy 12/4/2012 | 11:58:11 PM
re: Agere Launches Line-Card Kits As a startup company, we won't select any significant components where you can't buy an eval board. The times we've violated that rule, we've gotten burned. It's not just the ability to lift the reference design, it's also the ability to build and test device drivers and diagnostics long before the hardware exists. It shaves months off board bringup. It also saves you from falling into the trap of being an early adopter *cough* sucker *cough* of some silicon vendor's PowerPoint-ware.
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