Comms chips

Vitesse Courts GigE Market

Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) has begun sampling a 24-port Gigabit Ethernet switch chip, an attempt to leapfrog aggressive rivals Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

The company today announced the Stapleford [la-de-dah!] chip, more prosaically called the VSC7303. The part has been shipping to original design manufacturer (ODM) customers in Taiwan, one of which has completed a board that Vitesse will show at next week's Networld+Interop conference in Las Vegas.

Product line manager Shahriar Agahian says Stapleford will be available in volume in June. That puts it in a race with Marvell's Prestera-EX242, a similar 24-port chip announced in February. The Prestera EX family consists of several chips that are still in the sampling stage, but Marvell officials say they're on track to begin volume shipments of some EXs this quarter.

Ethernet switch chips are designed to handle most of the functions of an Ethernet switch, so that the technical work is mostly completed for a systems vendor. Target customers tend to be the low-cost box makers in Taiwan, whose goal is to design a system that can be slapped together cheaply and quickly.

Broadcom leads the overall Ethernet switch market, due to its dominance in Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/s), with chips that carry as many as 48 Fast Ethernet ports. When it comes to Gigabit Ethernet, though, the company offers a 12-port chip but hasn't announced a 24-port offering yet -- giving Marvell and Vitesse an apparent opening at the high end of the market.

But Marvell's Prestera chips have fallen behind schedule (see Marvell Readies GigE Attack), opening the possibility that Vitesse could be the first vendor to reach general availability with a 24-port Gigabit Ethernet switch chip.

Vitesse's entry stems from the 2001 acquisition of Danish firm Exbit Technology A/S (see Vitesse Buys Exbit). Still based in Denmark, the Exbit designers are producing media access controller (MAC) chips and switch chips for Gigabit Ethernet.

Stapleford is part of an ongoing line of chips named London. Vitesse announced a 16-port device in September and plans to announce others this year, Agahian says.

Going beyond LAN applications, Stapleford includes means for honoring service-level agreements in the WAN. "We see some customers wanting to use Ethernet in the WAN and wanting to limit their customers' bandwidth," Agahian says.

In terms of cost and power -- two key metrics for this market -- Stapleford sells for $144 and consumes 5 watts.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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