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Agere net processor integrates traffic manager

Posted: 19 Feb 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:agere systems? payloadplus? app540? network processor? network processing unit?

Agere Systems will soon provide samples of its latest network processor chip, which integrates several peripheral functions into one IC and trims the BOM for a net processor and memory solution to about $625.

The PayloadPlus APP540 includes a network processor engine that processes data at 5Gbps, a traffic manager, a classifier search engine, and an Ethernet MAC. The traffic manager is perhaps the most unusual function to be integrated; most companies either use a separate device for controlling the flow of outgoing packets or rely on the NPU to do so in software.

For Agere, integrating the traffic-management hardware was a natural next step. It started by providing traffic managers with ATM networks and is considered the leader in that area, said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst with The Linley Group.

The alternative - the software-based approach - would have been "MIPS-intensive and non-deterministic in how to do traffic," said Agere technical marketing manager John Rolfe.

In cost-reduction terms, the most significant move Agere made was to eschew content-addressable memories. Instead, the company uses fast-cycle RAMs, which have a random-access cycle latency <20ns, as required. One 256Mb FCRAM costs $22, while an 18Mb CAM costs about $300, Rolfe said. Moreover, the FCRAM can be used as a buffer memory for 5Gbps R/W.

The chip, with 1,413 pins, has enough extra silicon area for Agere to add 2.6MB of on-chip SRAM. "We use [external SRAM] sparingly and made them optional. If you want big statistics, you can populate [the design] with 4MB of external SRAM," said Rolfe.

Assuming the external SRAM is needed, the AP5540 and full memory subsystem will cost $625. The NPU itself makes up $295 of that cost. Some competing solutions go for more than $2,000, including co-processors and CAMs, Agere said.

Agere hopes to sell prospective customers on the PayloadPlus' unique functional programming language, said to be less code-intensive than machine code or the C languages. Agere will likely come out with an FPL-to-C compiler to get programmers on board, Rolfe said. "We have it as a project and we have it working, but we haven't gotten to the point where it's actually a product yet," he said.

- Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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