Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Look deep into this eye

I'm not much on demos, particularly ones showing off something as esoteric as an applications programming interface. But I have to say I was impressed with a demo from Cadence at DesignCon yesterday.

The EDA company showed its existing signal integrity tool using a new API to query a 6 Gbit/s IBM serdes chip. The tool, which could also be used on an oscilloscope, validated the integrity of a signal from the serdes without revealing its proprietary equalization technique.

It was a rare moment to "see" a signal as it looked inside a high-speed receiver and to see a tool that could work both as part of an EDA product and a tester.

Cadence is trying to recruit support for the tool today in hopes of making a significant splash at a meeting of the IBIS group at DesignCon on Thursday. If the EDA company can get a consensus, the IBIS group might make the API a standard. But that will probably take some time because competitors including Mentor Graphics and Signal Integrity Software want to go over the API with a fine tooth comb before they give it a thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

PCI Express 3.0: 8, 10 or 12?

The ink on the 5GHz PCI Express spec is not even dry and the debate is already on about version 3.0.

Some say to heck with backward compatibility. It's time to make the break with the past and step boldly into a 10-12 Gbit/second interconnect.

Others say, no way. That would burn way too much power on high levels of equalization, 8 Gbit is enough. After all, even Express 2.0 will only effectively deliver 4 Gbits/second of data, so you will have an effective doubling. And Express traditionally stays a step behind the more aggressive comms serdes world of 3.125G, 6.5G and 10G so that PCs can benefit from more relaxed standards and costs. After all, those boards will all be built in low cost shops in Shenzhen.

I bet when the dust clears we will have an 8GHz Express 3.0. What do you think?

Monday, January 29, 2007

The new I/O formula: mW/Gb/s

Just as processors shifted from a focus on megahertz to Mips per Watt, so I/O is now going through its own transition. The new metric for I/O is becoming milliWatts per Gbit per second.

That's what I heard from engineers at my first day at this week's DesignCon conference. That and some news: Rambus will show a pretty amazing leap in a paper to be delivered at The International Solid State Circuits Conference: I/O that draws just 2 mW/Gbit/s.

Compare that to the 15-30 mW/Gbit/s for today's mainstream PCI Express products. For more see my EET story. Stay tuned for more details.

Atheros pushes Bluetooth as PC PAN

Hey, maybe this whole Bluetooth thing really will work out. I have been having my doubts.

But today Atheros announced plans for a Bluetooth part customized for PCs. I know Dell has been a big backer of Bluetooth. But there's plenty of competition for who will be the personal area network of choice from Bluetooth, WiNet and a host of proprietary links such as STS.

Atheros' backing for Bluetooth makes me think this technology may really become the PAN of choice. But I keep scratching my head wondering why we don't see a wireless iPod…anybody got an answer for that one?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

What's shakin' in signal integrity?

I'll be hanging out at DesignCon in Santa Clara, Calif. this week where there are plenty of sessions on issues dealing with high-speed (often serial) interconnects. If you don't happen to be in that neck of the woods but have some news, observations or frustrations to air as we enter the year of 5GHz Express and 6GHz SAS and SATA--I am all ears.

Drop a posting below or send me an email at

Friday, January 26, 2007

PCI Express gets coherent

The Scalable Coherent Interconnect and StarFabric technologies are out at the newly merged team of Dolphin Interconnect Solutions ASA and StarGen Inc. All new products for the company will ride the big train of PCI Express.

The most interesting of these may be the NUMAchip, a cache coherent version of Express in development in the Norway labs of Dolphin for use as a clustering interconnect. Just how that offering will compete with the incumbents Infiniband, Quadrics and Myrinet remains to be seen.

Before the company rolls out its NUMAchip, the former StarGen will ship (as early as March) enhanced Express products for I/O fan out and for sending Express signals up to 300 meters over optical fibre. StarGen will also field a non-coherent I/O and clustering interconnect chip based on Express.

I wonder what Intel and AMD think about a coherent Express offering? Hmmmmmm.

Rising from the ASI ashes

Norway's Dolphin Interconnect Solutions ASA is acquiring StarGen Inc. in a stock transaction. The interesting bit is the merged company is tipping new I/O and clustering products based on PCI Express that may be giving fresh life to the concepts from the Advanced Switching Interconnect that quietly died last year.

You can get a quick hit of the details from my story on EE Times and stay tuned for more after an interview with the principals later today. --rbm

Thursday, January 25, 2007

IEEE will rein in Ethernet power

The IEEE 802.3 has formed an Energy-Efficient Ethernet study group that had its first meeting last week in Monterey, Calif. AMCC, Broadcom and Cisco all made presentations.

A Cisco presentation suggested the group define one common mechanism to shift from 10Gbit to Gbit to 100Mbit Ethernet speeds without losing the link. By leveraging existing techniques in multi-speed physical layer chips, the approach would not add significant cost, the Cisco presenter said.

Government groups such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs are said to be prime movers in the effort. The EPA will be adding networking requirements to its power-saving Energy Star program, including a mandate to reduce net speed during times of low data traffic.

The effort also fits into ongoing government studies aimed at finding ways to reduce power use in large government and private data centers, something the ad hoc industry consortium The Green Grid is expected to address in the next few weeks.

Proponents estimate Energy-Efficient Ethernet could save $450 million in energy costs a year in the U.S. alone. Interestingly, the brunt of the savings-- $200 million--could come from home computers, another $170 million from offices and $80 million from data centers.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Intel steps on the draft 11n gas

Notebooks using Intel's draft 802.11n module will ship as early as January 30 in tandem with the release of the consumer version of Windows Vista, Intel said today. Acer, Asus, Gateway and Toshiba will get the first systems out the door. No word on notebook giants Dell, Lenovo and HP yet.

Intel isn't disclosing key details around its 4965AGN module. For instance, who supplies those 2.4 and 5GHz front end chips? What is the average and max power consumption, and how much does the silly thing cost?

The good news is the module delivers 125Mbits/second sustained, can send a high def video stream 68 meters and can support both 2x3 and 2x2 MIMO configurations. Sounds good, now if we just knew how it compared to say Atheros and Broadcom .11n chips in price and power. If you know, post to the world here or drop me a line at

Monday, January 22, 2007

WiMax finds its niche

If all goes well, WiMax might take 20 percent of the opportunity for fourth generation wireless broadband systems. That's the prediction Jake MacLeod made at a San Jose conference last week.

It was clear from the conference that momentum has slowed for WiMax over the past year. The technology still has great potential for bringing broadband to developing countries that have no infrastructure. And that's where the handful of small OEM pursuing WiMax are focused today.

But there's plenty of work yet to be done to get the more robust mobile WiMax technology finished, frequencies globally allocated, chip sets cost-reduced and products certified so system makers can take a slice of tomorrow's cellular markets in the developing world. In the meantime there's hope and a lot of hype behind WiMax. –rbm

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Riding the waves at 10Gbit

Get ready for rough waters ahead for 10Gbit Ethernet in the data center.

Today Chelsio Communications becomes one of the first to tip its 10GBase-T adapter cards. But the company's news makes clear this category of products will have plenty of problems getting power and price down and distance up to acceptable levels.

Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems is announcing it will go its own way in 10Gbit Ethernet. According to Sun the average 10G card simply cannot keep up with aggressively multithreaded server microprocessors like its pending Niagara-2, so it is designing its own 10G ASIC for use in an Express card and to drop into its multi-core CPU designs. That's a new wrinkle I don't think anyone was expecting on these already troubled waters. –rbm

Monday, January 15, 2007

Easing into 5 GHz in 2007

Signal Integrity Software, Inc. announced it will demonstrate its new Quantum Channel Designer software at DesignCon 2007 in Santa Clara on Jan. 30. The software uses a mix of frequency-domain, time-domain and statistical techniques to provide end-to-end predictions of Bit Error Rate data for high-speed serial links that employ a variety of pre-emphasis and equalization techniques.

The tool will go into customer testing in the second quarter and will eventually be available at prices ranging from $30,000-$75,000.

It's good timing for new signal integrity tools. The PCI SIG just announced they have completed the PCI Express 2.0 spec, taking the interconnect up to data rates of 5 GHz. While the Base Express 2.0 spec is done, I believe the electro-mechanical spec for assuring existing PC boards can handle the higher frequency signals is still in progress.

Chip makers such as AMD, Intel and NVidia may have their first 5 GHz Express parts out as early as this fall, but most of the rest of the industry won't follow suit until 2008. --rbm

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hey Nokia, turn down the Wibree volume, will ya!

That's the message the CTO of Nokia got at the Consumer Electronics Show in a meeting with members of the PC industry.

As you may recall, Wibree is really a low power mode of Bluetooth promoted by Nokia as a way to link to gadgets running on button cells such as toys and watches. Nokia has a whole concept about broadcasting to these simple embedded systems to create a new consumer eco-system around its phones--something they probably will badly need in the shadow of Apple's iPhone chic.

But the PC makers are asking the Finns to put the brakes on a marketing campaign for WiBree. They don't want another whole network type being created that they have to track. For the PC world Bluetooth in the PAN, WiFi in the LAN and cellular and WiMax in the WAN is plenty thank you. They need to pinch pennies in PC-land, you understand.

Whether Nokia will hear the message and reign in its Wibree messaging reamins to be seen. The good news is as far as I have heard chip makers will generally use just one chip set to support Bluetooth and Wibree, though presumably they may spin a lower cost receiver in the embedded gadgets. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bye, bye good old UDI

You can still go to the Web site for the Unified Display Interface, but it's just dead bits flashing. UDI is no more.

The last pieces of the puzzle fell into place when I saw key Intel and Samsung execs behind the podium at the DisplayPort conference at the Consumer Electronics Conference today.

Samsung confirmed there are no other monitor makers or customers asking for UDI, but plenty are queueing up for DisplayPort. Dell made a great case for why DisplayPort is better than HDMI or any other contender for the replacement of VGA, LVDS and DVI. And Intel admitted they have been working on HDCP copy protection for DisplayPort for almost a year.

It's done deal folks. For the PC, anyway.

But Dell, HP and many others will want to plug their big plasma displays into both Media Center PCs and set-top boxes now and into the digital future. So we still need a convergence digital display interconnect. Meanwhile, HDMI backers are trying to grab every PC design win they can get.

Let the next battle in this war begin.

Here comes SDI

No, not Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. I am talking about Gennum Corp.'s Serial Digital Interface, the high def link for studio gear that recently hit 3Gbits/second. The technology won an Emmy award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences tonight in a ceremony at the Consumer Electronics Show.

SDI has been around for years. Gennum's chips for the interconnect now command as much as 70 percent of the share of this small but lucrative market.

As HD is coming into the mainstream the TV academy saw it fit to recognize its role. Gennum's newly installed cheif executive, Franz Fink, was bursting his suit coat buttons with pride.

Stay tuned for possible variants of SDI coming to other markets. The company has a steady record of profits, but growth has been elusive. So Fink hired his former colleague at Freescale Semiconductor, Martin Rolfheart, as VP of corporate development. Rolfheart pushed Freescale's ultrawide program vigorously but unsuccdessfully against the tide of a gaggle of competitors. --rbm

Monday, January 08, 2007

CES: Thomson eschews BT, Philips taps UWB

A couple quick dispatches from Las Vegas where I have been covering the Consumer Electronics Show this weekend--Oh boy!

Thomson has sidestepped Bluetooth in favor of proprietary technology from startup Kleer Corp. to enable wireless headsets on its latest high end flash MP3 player, the Jet Stream. Kleer has a module that delivers uncompressed audio over 2.4 GHz at a fraction of the power of Bluetooth, opening the door to headsets with ten hours battery life.

A Thomson exec said the company looked at propriatary Bluetooth killers from several companies including Wi-Fi and 900 MHz variants. They liked the multicast feature Kleer has because it could also be used in future wireless home theater products.

Also today, Philips said it will roll out this year a "wireless HDMI" peripheral based on ultrawideband for its flat-screen TVs. The company told my colleague Junko Yoishida it is not using the TZero/ADI chips, but it would not reveal whose chip it is using.

Separately, it became clear from some booth demos Saturday night ultrawideband is still not quite ready for prime time. The wireless USB stuff could ship by April--or so Intel hopes. But Pulse-Link is saying its more like mid-year for its version of UWB.

Stay tuned for more on UDI, DisplayPort, HDMI and more from CES. I'll be here until through Wednesday.

Meanwhile, if you know of any other Bluetooth killers out there, out them in a posting here or drop me a line at Likewise if you know who got the UWB design win at Philips, let's talk!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seeing what's not at CES

Sometimes the most revealing details are the missing ones. I am gearing up for the Consumer Electronics Show by taking the next couple days off for R&R. Before I go, two quick observations on interconnects.

I expected to see a big coming out party for wireless USB at CES. So far I think I saw about zero emails on the topic in my overflowing CES folder...Hmmmmmm.

Also, while the DisplayPort crew is holding a high-profile press event--admittedly one arranged at the last minute--there is no news on the Unified Display Interface coming from Silicon Image at CES. Intel is not responding to my calls on the topic. Double hmmmmmmmm.

I expect to see and not see lots of interesting things at CES, so hang on. You may not hear from me for the next couple days, but starting Saturday night I'll be posting regularly once again.

Happy New Year! --rbm