Thursday, August 31, 2006

Intel eyes copy protection for wireless

I finally got to talk with Stephen Balogh, director of content protection for Intel Corp. today. He gave the DisplayPort group backhanded compliments for their efforts on an extra strength copyright protection scheme. But wireless, not greater security, is where the action is in copy protection today, he said.

Intel is interested in moving to a wireless transport like ultrawideband its High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) technology used in the wired High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) now shipping on millions of digital TVs and set-tops. The company is having “lots of good discussions with lots of people but nothing has gelled yet,” Balogh said.

Philips is leapfrogging Intel with its DisplayPort Copy Protection (DPCP) by moving from 40- to 128-bit keys, supporting new crypto algorithms such as AES and providing features that make sure transmitters and receivers are not distant points across the Internet.

“They are doing a pretty good job as far as the state of the art for copy protection…but it’s a Fort Knox in the least likely place for people to try to steal content. There are lots of easier places for people to go steal content,” he said.

Disney and Warner Brothers have signed on to use HDCP. Maintaining compatibility with that technology is more important than bolstering security, he said.

HDCP is “still vibrant enough to meet the studio’s requests. There isn’t a strong push from them one way or another, so we don’t have any plans to upgrade encryption or key exchange,” Balogh said.--rbm

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Intel taking a fresh look digital display interfaces

I talked to Simon Ellis, Intel’s point person on digital display interfaces yesterday. He let me know Intel is evaluating the way forward and will plot its course by the end of the year. It is still engaged with the Unified Display Interface, which has now hit a final version 1.0. But whether UDI or something else becomes the horse the CPU giant backs remains to be seen. Watch this space.

Ellis said Intel is going back to first principles: users need a low cost, high performance interface. And “interoperability with the installed base of DVI and HDMI is desirable.”

That’s an adjective that leaves a little wiggle room to get more parties to the table. As always, dear blog posters, my ears are open. --rbm

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dueling display interfaces

What will be the mainstream plug for tomorrow’s digital TVs and LCD monitors-- DisplayPort, the Unified Display Interface, some upgrade of today’s evolving High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) or something yet to emerge?

The DisplayPort people suggest they have some new backers coming in the next 30 days. I’m all ears, dear blog posters.

Analogix announced its first transmitters and receivers for the emerging DisplayPort standard on Monday. See
or better yet search for story ID 1070827 on
The interesting wrinkle is Analogix made their chips compatible with HDMI because DisplayPort’s copy protection technology is not yet approved.

The spec for DPCP is done, Michael Epstein of Philips told me. The effort seeks to leapfrog copy protection on HDMI because it uses an 128-bit encryption key along with AES, rather than the 40-bit key used in HDMI’s HDCP. It also adds support for checking the proximity of the transmitter and receiver, a new technique to make sure users aren’t fooling a system to send content out to distant unauthorized users.

The DVD Copy Control Association -- -- could approve DPCP at their October 4 meeting. But the technology has yet to be submitted to the Advanced Access Content System that oversees security for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Further down the line is a submission to the Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator -- see -- whose DTCP is used on 1394 and many other buses.

“The approvals take a long time because there are a lot of companies and lawyers involved,” said Epstein. Sounds like fun. Not!

Genesis Microchip was first to announce DisplayPort chips, but they didn’t say anything about copy protection in their press release. See

I hope to talk to Intel this week to see if they are preparing any moves to broker a meeting of the display interfaces or any upgrades for the HDMI content protection technology they own.

Shopping for a new DVD player over the weekend, I realized once again that consumers won’t care how many security backflips OEMs build into their products to reassure the studios their content is safe in the digital world. The buyer just wants systems to know all the systems they buy will link to each other in ways that are fully features and won’t freak out with blue screens.

This industry is a fair way from delivering on that hope. --rbm

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ragging on RDMA

Last week, HPCwire posted an in-depth technical article by Patrick Geoffray of Myricom Inc. in which he claims RDMA brings little to the table for high performance system interconnects beyond what is available using the message passing interface (MPI) that Myricom and a handful of other clustering specialists employ.


His history is a little revisionist. For example, the Virtual Interface Architecture the PC world developed did not fade away, as he says. It was subsumed into Infiniband where many of the concepts were further refined and became a launching pad for RDMA.

The article makes the point there are many ways to skin the cat, and an engineer has to do some heavy lifting to get RDMA to work well with MPI and the Sockets interface. Good points. RDMA has its shortcomings, and the industry needs to continue to work on them.

In the end, however, RDMA is the industry standards effort trying to take high performance interconnects into the mainstream for HPC and beyond. See The MPI interface that is the basis for products from Myricom and others, will not likely see much action outside the fairly narrow confines of the HPC market. Geoffray's critique bears some of the signs of a technologist swimming against the tide of history.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Adaptec, Qlogic, Mellanox…beware

CPU+I/O= ???

Sun Microsystems detailed its Niagara-2 chip for the first time at Hot Chips on Tuesday. See I missed the conference but talked with Sun chief architect Rick Hetherington this week. Look for my full report at on Monday morning. (Tip: if you don’t see it, search for Hetherington and it should pop up. Free registration may be required.)

Anyway, Hetherington described the chip with two 10Gbit Ethernet ports and a native 8x PCI Express interface as a 65nm server-on-a-chip. The company has working silicon it will have to re-spin before it is ready to go into Sun’s systems. For more on Niagara, which Sun calls T1, see

Interconnect guru Mike Krause of Hewlett Packard called this the first step toward the “universal PHY.” He foresees chips with on-board programmable serdes that can talk Ethernet, Express, SATA, Fibre Channel--whatever--as needed. That could fundamentally change computer design and the industry, rolling up many third party board makers in a whole new phase of consolidation, Krause thinks.

AMD chief architect Chuck Moore told me he doesn’t think rolling I/O into the CPU is such a good idea. But I’m not sure he really understood Krause’s vision. The reality is AMD has already rolled the north bridge into its CPUs and its latest HyperTransport announcements indicate it is well on the way to sucking in the gist of the south bridge I/O and a whole lot more. See

Linley Gwennap of market watcher The Linley Group -- see -- reminded me the embedded world is already a step ahead of computerdom. (So what’s new?) Dan Dobberpuhl’s PA Semi has programmable serdes on its chips today. See

In the long term, I think Krause is right. Someday the computer industry may not have an Adaptec, QLogic or Mellanox. Those companies’ products will be features on 32-core Intel and AMD CPUs.--rbm

1394: an interconnect, not a network

My colleague David Lammers has a story up this morning about Freescale Semiconductor taking its proposal for 1394-over-coax off the table at the 1394 Trade Association. Go to and search for article ID 192205070. (Free registration may be required.)

Freescale indicates it will focus more on ultrawideband. The paves the way for the 1394 group to adopt technology from Pulse-Link, Inc., the story says.

My take: Fugidaboutit!

A looong time ago Sony and a gaggle of other consumer electronics companies thought 1394 would be the linchpin of tomorrow's home networks. Their HAVi spec was the basis for that drive. But HAVi has long since gone belly up, supplanted by a host of interoperability specs such as UPnP and DLNA around existing "no new wires" networks like WiFi, cable coax and powerline.

Even Sony's Scott Smyers, who led the charge on HAVi years ago, told me recently that they finally realized 1394 was never meant to be a networking technology. 1394 needs to stay what it is--a great multimedia point-to-point interconnect.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is ASI dead?

OK, let me put this more succinctly: is ASI dead?

If no, why not?

If yes, what does that mean to you?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Advanced Switching: Grinding the gears

OK, let's get started. A few weeks ago, I heard the Advanced Switching Interconnect was imploding. (see Only startup StarGen would be supplying first-generation silicon and it needed a new infusion of venture capital soon. Here's a link to the story (you may need to go through a free registration process to view it):;jsessionid=YNTOSMGCJCY0KQSNDLRCKHSCJUNN2JVN?articleID=190400383&_requestid=387597

Yesterday, my colleague Loring Wirbel posted a story that StarGen has laid off 80 percent of its staff.


As an EE Times editor, I've seen plenty of major industry initatives rise and fall. I'd love to hear from anyone with any insights on what happened with ASI in general and StarGen specifically and how it may be affecting them. Most of all, what are the lessons we need to learn from this debacle?

Post your reply here or email me if it is to sensitive to share with the community.

Rick Merritt
EE Times

Welcome to the interconnects blog

This blog will be a touchstone for news and opinions on chip and board level interconnects for engineers in computer and communications systems companies.

I am Rick Merritt, Editor at large for Electronic Engineering Times. Interconnect is one of the areas I have covered in depth. See our 2005 Web survey of views on interconnects from 243 engineers:

We laid out many of the basic issues based on a report from two focus groups:

I look forward to regularly updating this site with news, opinions and resources on the subject and welcome your posts.

Rick Merritt
Editor at large
EE Times