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Comms chips

RMI, Cavium Compare at the Core

RMI Corp. is adding to its multicore processor family, making some noise on the heels of a big-deal chip launch from rival Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM). (See RMI Launches XLP.)

At the Interop show today, RMI introduced its XLP line of processors based on the new EC4400 processor core. "Cores," if you're not down with chip lingo, are little microprocessors in their own right.

The first chip RMI is announcing is the XLP832, which can hold up to eight of these cores. The chips are built to work in groups of up to four, providing a 32-core unit. Cavium, meanwhile, is saying its Octeon II chips will hold up to 32 cores, although it's only released details about versions with up to six cores. (See Cavium Sprouts More Cores.)

But as you might expect, the story gets different depending on which specs get emphasized. RMI's processor cores will be running four instructions per clock cycle, as opposed to one or two like most competing chips. On paper, that means each RMI core could do more than Octeon's.

"With the six-core version [of Octeon II], we don't expect them to compete in the space the XLP is going to be able to address," says Jim Johnston, RMI's senior director of product line management.

On the speed front RMI's EC4400 cores will run at speeds beyond 2 GHz, compared with the 1.5 GHz that Cavium and Freescale Semiconductor Inc. are claiming. XLP chips' cores will run as slow as 500 MHz, though, because the 2 GHz speed will come with a tradeoff of greater power and heat.

What might be most notable, though, is that the XLP chips will handle control and data plane functions. Combining those onto one chip is important (Cavium says it can do the same thing), and marks a significant improvement for RMI. "Before, we weren't as strong a position in the control plane as we were in the data plane," says Chris Keil, RMI's senior director of marketing. Likely markets for the XLP chips include security appliances and wireless infrastructure -- base stations, or LTE channel cards. RMI says the eight-core XLP832 will be able to process traffic at 40 Gbit/s and that a four-chip grouping would be more than enough for a 100-Gbit/s application.

The XLP832, and other XLP chips yet unannounced, are due to start sampling in the fourth quarter.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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