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Comms chips

Net Processors Gain Respect

After a few years of hype and lofty promises, network processors may finally be coming into their own.

Collectively, chip vendors have claimed more than 600 design wins for network processors. The significance of most of those wins has been somewhat ambiguous, but recent announcements from established OEMs such as Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), LG Electronics Inc., and Riverstone Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RSTNE) stand as evidence that network processors are being taken seriously by established companies.

Why is the market more agreeable now than, say, three years ago? For one thing, many of the chips are entering their second and third generations, as chipmakers have rectified the flaws and oversights of their first tries.

Moreover, OEMs appear to be buying into the central argument for network processors: that they save the time and expense of ASIC design. With "restructuring" having cut into the marrow of ASIC design teams, many OEM projects are suddenly in need of off-the-shelf chips.

An overview of the market, covering 36 chips from 13 vendors, is captured in "Network Processor Revolution," this month's installment of Light Reading Insider, Light Reading's paid subscription research service.

The report lists network-processor features and costs and, perhaps most important, availability data. Chips designed for data-plane forwarding at 1 Gbit/s and faster speeds are included -- leaving out vendors such as Wintegra Inc. that target edge/access applications, and those such as PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS), whose chips mainly target the control plane.

Public companies included in the report are:

Seven private companies are profiled as well:

In addition to comparing the physical specifications of the various offerings, the report also details the variety of architectures on the market. The main battle here is between chips using multiple RISC-based processing engines, such as the Intel IXP1200, versus those using Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) architectures, such as EZchip's NP-1.

Most analysts agree that network processors still seem ripe for consolidation. Even the startups are beginning to announce design wins, however, so the market may finally reward those vendors that can show just a little more stamina than the competition.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

The current Light Reading Insider report, “Network Processor Revolution,” is available here. A single-user license to the report is $400. Annual single-user subscriptions to the Insider, which include access to the complete archives, the current report, and each of the monthly reports issued over the next 12 months, are available for $1,250 per year per user.

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