Comms chips

Broadcom Tackles 10-Gig Copper

Hoping to accelerate the adoption of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) is introducing an all-in-one device for putting the technology onto copper lines (see Broadcom Intros 10-GigE Switch Chip).

The BCM5673 chip, announced yesterday, operates on 10GBASE-CX4, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) standard for putting 10-Gbit/s Ethernet onto copper rather than fiber optics. The CX4 standard mimics the XAUI interface, splitting 10-Gbit/s traffic into four lanes of 3.125 Gbit/s apiece.

Folks aren't exactly screaming for 10-Gbit/s over copper yet, but Broadcom is hoping devices like this one can spur demand by accelerating Ethernet's ongoing price reductions. Per-port prices for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet still exceed $10,000, but the BCM5673 could drop that to $1,500, contends Eric Hayes, Broadcom product line manager. (For analysis of 10-Gig Ethernet costs, check out Page 10 of our report on 10-Gigabit Ethernet Switches and Routers.)

Broadcom isn't publicly stating the price of the BCM5673, but Hayes implies it's less than $300 in the right volumes.

Fujitsu Microelectronics America Inc. made similar claims -- with possibly smaller dollar figures -- when it announced a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet switch chip earlier this month (see Fujitsu Packs in 10GigE ). But Broadcom claims its chip includes Layer 7 classification capabilities, whereas Fujitsu's chip sticks to Layer 2: "It has a lot of ports but not a lot of smarts or flexibility," says Martin Lund, senior director of Broadcom's switching business.

"A lot of ports" is right -- Fujitsu's chip includes 12 ports of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, whereas the BCM5673 carries just one. The uniport approach is a bit more conventional for a young technology, as Ethernet system designs tend to put one or two ports of the latest thing (10-Gbit/s Ethernet, in this case) with, say, 24 ports of a more mainstream generation (Gigabit Ethernet). That's the kind of architecture the BCM5673 targets.

Fujitsu says it's targeting a different market from Broadcom's -- for enterprise and storage Layer 2 switches, not high-end Layer 3 and above switches that typically cost a lot more and sell in smaller volumes.

If Broadcom tried to compete in the market Fujitsu is targeting, it would need nine chips to Fujitsu's one, and this would cost on the order of $2,500 (at $300 per BCM5673) as against Fujitsu's $750 (for large volumes), according to Marwan Majid, senior marketing manager of Fujitsu's high-performance ASIC division. The nine chips would also occupy more space, require more power, and would have poorer performance, because of the latency of communications between the chips, according to Asif Hazarika, Fujitsu's senior system architect and high-performance ASSP product marketing manager.

Naturally, Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) has a foot in the 10-Gbit/s game as well. Its Prestera EX130 and MX630 switch chips can each support one port of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet (see Marvell Unveils Ethernet Switches), as can its FX910 switch-fabric interface (see Marvell Offers Multiservice Fabric). (Switch fabric chip sets tend to consist of two chips: one that does the actual switching, and an "interface" chip that has to appear on every line card. The FX910 is the latter type of chip.)

Broadcom says it's gotten a step ahead of Marvell by integrating a switch-fabric interface onto the BCM5673. That might be an advantage later, but not just yet, Marvell officials say. "Sometimes integration is less cost-effective than having separate parts. It's really a function of the die-size curve," says Paul Valentine, Marvell senior marketing manager.

Broadcom is sampling the BCM5673 chip, with volume shipments anticipated later this quarter. Valentine says Marvell's various 10-Gbit/s Ethernet chips will reach first customer shipments at times ranging from the end of 2003 to late in 2004.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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