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NEC upgrades gateway processor to handle security tasks

Posted: 04 Sep 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:nec electronics america? embedded processor? vr4133? vr4131? montavista software?

Setting its sights on network gateways, NEC Electronics America Inc. has rolled out a faster version of its 64-bit embedded processor, giving it enough horsepower to take on some extra security and connectivity tasks.

The VR4133, which has been in the hands of early customers for several months, is intended to take on much of the heavy lifting between a LAN and WAN. Among its new features are a pair of Ethernet MACs and a faster 66MHz PCI interface.

In a wired or wireless gateways, for example, NEC said the chip can receive and dispatch commands through a pair of Ethernet physical layer chips. It can also be used for the same purpose in a wireless gateway, where a PCI bus is used in place of one of the physical layer devices.

The chip uses the same 64-bit core processor as its predecessor, the VR4131. However, it has been tuned to run at a more agile 266MHz, allowing it to execute 445M instructions per second. Another change that should help throughput is the move from a 100MHz to a 133MHz interface to external SDRAM.

The extra horsepower will be needed to take on some new security functions, said Arnold Estep, NEC's senior marketing manager for embedded processors. The chip can handle Internet Key Exchange algorithms, used for secure transactions, entirely in software. But heavier algorithms for encryption and authentication had to be supported by adding hardware acceleration engines, he said.

"The standard line rate is 100Mbps. With hardware assist you can achieve at least half the line rate. With software you drop the performance 10 times," he added.

One drawback of cranking up the CPU speed is that it takes more power, in this case 370mW at full speed versus 220mW for the VR4131. To counter this, the chip has four operating modes in which the power can be turned down to 80-, 10-, 7-, and 0mW.

Available now, the chip is priced at $27.50 in 10,000-unit quantities. A reference board can also be purchased for $1,950. A local port to the Linux OS is available, and the company expects another version from MontaVista Software will be ready by year's end.

NEC said it is now certifying WindRiver's VxWorks OS; the company is also evaluating Microsoft's Windows CE, though no schedule has yet been set for porting the OS, Estep said.

- Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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