RapidIO gains chip support, legitimacy
RapidIO gains chip support, legitimacy
By David Lammers, EE Times
April 3, 2003 (1:12 p.m. EST)
Dallas - The infrastructure needed to bring the RapidIO interconnect to the networking market is coming together, squelching questions about whether the chip-to-chip technology has lost momentum to competitors HyperTransport and the Intel-spearheaded Advanced Switching derivative of PCI Express.
At Motorola Inc.'s Smart Network Developer Forum (SNDF) here last week, Motorola officials unveiled working silicon for the company's RapidIO-enabled PowerQuicc III communications processor. Other members of the RapidIO Trade Association demonstrated prototype bridge and switch chips, development software and logic analyzers that support the parallel and serial versions of the high-speed interconnect specification.
This week, the RapidIO Trade Association is expected to announce that Texas Instruments Inc. will elevate its participation in the association, joining the nine-member board.
"Anytime you can get Texas Instruments to support a standard originally developed within Motorola, you know it must have something going for it," quipped DSP analyst Will Strauss.
The other major DSP vendors-Agere Systems and Analog Devices Inc.-also support RapidIO. That makes it likely that upcoming devices from the four largest DSP chip houses will have serial RapidIO ports on board, said Strauss, the president of market research firm Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.).
"This is the first time we've seen such a strong ecosystem develop so rapidly" around a new interconnect aimed at the networking market, said Jim Parisien, tool support manager at Tundra Semiconductor Corp. (Kanata, Ontario).
Tundra demonstrated a four-port switch chip at SNDF, the Tsi500, that supports 8-bit, full-duplex, double-data-rate RapidIO interfaces. A PCI-to-RapidIO bus bridge chip, the Tsi400, will be used to link legacy PCI processors to RapidIO processors. Both parts are now in general sampling, with production expected by early next year, Parisien said. T he switch chip is priced at $59 in volumes and the bridge chip at $49.
Intrinsity Inc. (Austin, Texas) has dual RapidIO ports on prototypes of its high-end MIPS-architecture controllers, analyst Strauss said. And IBM Microelectronics is expected to compete with Motorola in the race to add parallel RapidIO ports to PowerPC controllers, he said.
About 525 engineers from among Motorola's U.S. customer base attended the SNDF event, with an approximately equal number of Motorola employees participating. At the technology labs, an impressive number of companies demonstrated RapidIO products, and the RapidIO technical sessions were standing-room-only.
Wind River Systems Inc. used Tundra switch silicon to demonstrate a full development suite for a RapidIO fabric linking legacy PCI and PCI-X processors.
Metrowerks, now owned by Motorola, demonstrated a suite of development tools for the PowerQuicc III. Chief technology officer Barardino Baratta said Metrowerks wants to loosen the gri p Wind River holds on the tool market for PowerQuicc I and II.
The RapidIO association has defined a hardware interface platform (HIP) that allows standard-size boards to be plugged into a HIP module for compatibility testing among different vendors' parts and software stacks. Tundra, working with board developer Ineoquest Technologies Inc. (Mansfield, Mass.), showed its working Tundra HIP board at SNDF. Ineoquest will begin selling the board next month at $2,500 for a single unit.
Tektronix Inc. (Beaverton, Ore.) demonstrated a logic analyzer optimized for RapidIO that avoids the reflections common at high signal speeds. The instrument adopts a probing technique that touches the printed-circuit board through an elastomeric connection. The analyzer is able to perform differential probing, comparing the skews among the multiple differential pairs in a parallel RapidIO interconnect.
But the biggest splash at SNDF was the introduction of PowerQuicc III, Motorola's flagship communication s control processor. By RapidIO standards, PowerQuicc III is a big engine, one that will sell to the 160,000-unit-per-year cellular-basestation market, analyst Strauss said.
Alpha sampling to 15 or 20 top customers will begin in 45 to 60 days, Motorola said, with general sampling slated for July. The high-end MPC8560 has an 833-MHz PowerPC controller and a 333-MHz communications-processing module, complemented by two Gigabit Ethernet ports and the parallel RapidIO port. It will sell for $158 when volume production starts toward the end of the year.
At the peak of the last boom, the various PowerQuicc parts had annual revenue "north of a billion," said David Perkins, general manager of the networking and computing systems group. But during the "telecom winter," he said, Motorola's $3 billion networking-silicon business has dropped roughly in half, with PowerQuicc revenue falling commensurately. Perkins said that PowerQuicc III answers critics who had asked when Motoro la would deliver its first RapidIO silicon. "We've taken a lot of heat from people who said, 'Motorola invented RapidIO, now where are your parts?' We heard that in stereo."
While PowerQuicc II is a full-custom design that continues to be upgraded, PowerQuicc III was designed with a system-on-chip methodology that embraces design reuse. "We want to be in a position to spin derivatives of the PowerQuicc III within three months," Perkins said.
RapidIO will tie together Motorola's PowerQuicc, C-Port and PowerPC G4 families, he said.
Asked if Motorola's networking group would add a HyperTransport module to PowerQuicc III specifically for Cisco Systems, which backs the HyperTransport interconnect developed by Advanced Micro Devices, Perkins said, "Motorola supplies a lot of silicon to Cisco. One of the advantages of PowerQuicc III is that we can integrate other IP [intellectual property] fairly quickly. If Cisco says they need a certain interconnect capability or some other specific techno logy, we have the capability to integrate that."
A Cisco engineer has publicly stated the company is shipping a system using HyperTransport, although he declined to name the product or processor it uses.
PMC-Sierra and Broadcom are already shipping communications processors that use HyperTransport, and computer CPUs using that interconnect spec are slated to roll from AMD and Transmeta later this year.
Backers of the HyperTransport spec folded communications-focused features for switching and concurrency into version 1.05 last year. Test specifications and a Web site for posting results debuted this year.
RapidIO will also compete with the PCI Express Advanced Switching (AS) spec, now being defined by a group led by Intel Corp. Although that spec is not yet finished, the group detailed much of its technical underpinnings at the Intel Developer Forum earlier this year.
Companies such as PLX Technologies and StarGen Inc. have already committed to migrating their proprie tary I/O approaches to AS. And Intel is expected to adopt the interconnect in its network processors as part of its drive to push PCI Express as the follow-on for PCI.Choice tied to MPU
While OEMs say they like the idea of greater standardization, some have suggested they are not evaluating the various chip-to-chip I/O technologies in detail but instead are picking their processor of choice and using whatever I/O they get with it. Thus Cisco uses HyperTransport in part because it has chosen Broadcom and PMC-Sierra parts. Storage array maker EMC Corp. is said to be adopting RapidIO because it is a PowerPC user. And Ericsson has been an early and vocal supporter of RapidIO as a standard interface, likely driving support for RapidIO among DSP makers.
Sam Fuller, president of the RapidIO Trade Association, said he expects that announcements of RapidIO-enabled silicon-"some with serial, some with parallel" RapidIO ports-will come from a variety of vendors at the Embedded Processor Forum in June. On the systems side, Fuller said, time-to-market is playing a strong role among the RapidIO association's system-company members, which include Ericsson, Lucent, Cisco and other large telecommunications and networking vendors.
Dan Bouvier, a Motorola PowerPC architecture manager and chairman of the steering committee of the RapidIO Trade Association, said the severe downturn has caused companies to "push the reset button" on many of their system development programs.
"The systems people [on the steering committee] are looking at it from their perspective, from the outside in, where many of them have proprietary interconnects," Bouvier said. In some cases, proprietary interconnects are being changed to RapidIO in order to save development time and dollars. Other companies are clinging to proprietary architectures to enhance profits. Melding networking, computing
While RapidIO is aimed at the networking market, it has the potential to create a merger of networking and co mputing, said senior analyst Eric Mantion at InStat/MDR. "It's the first high-performance bus that can connect a PowerPC with a communications controller like the PowerQuicc-or, in the future, a network processor like the C-Port-over a given chassis' control plane.
"It could allow the networking companies to go after some of the dollars that the computing guys get now," Mantion said.
- Additional reporting by Rick Merritt.
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