Broadcom Unveils First 28nm Multicore Network Chips

Broadcom’s new XLP 200-Series processors, which will be in full production next year, come less than a year after the company’s purchase of NetLogic.

Broadcom officials say they’ve leapt ahead of competitors like Freescale, Marvell and LSI with the launch of their 28-nanometer, low-power networking chip aimed at such environments as cloud computing, software-defined networks, 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) service provider deployments and enterprise data centers that increasingly are demanding greater scalability, performance and energy efficiency.

The XLP 200-Series is the first fruit from Broadcom’s $3.7 billion acquisition this year of NetLogic Microsystems, which helped expand Broadcom’s business in the $3 billion multicore communications chip market, which includes products for everything from wireless and networking offerings to storage and security. The deal gave Broadcom greater capabilities in such areas as embedded and knowledge-based processors.

The new 28nm chips, which are sampling now and will be in volume production in the second half of 2013, come at a time when other vendors are still churning out 40nm products, according to Kelvin Khoo, senior director of business development at Broadcom. They are aimed at the data plane, control plane and heterogeneous applications, according to the company.

The XLP 200-Series chips, which were unveiled Oct. 1, meet the growing industry demand for more performance and better energy efficiency, Khoo told eWEEK. The new chips offer 400 percent faster performance than competing products while driving down power consumption by up to 60 percent.

“It’s a different ballgame,” he said.

According to Khoo, the drivers fueling the need for new communications processors like the XLP 200-Series are the same ones hitting the entire networking market—including the global growth of Internet traffic (expected to grow eighteenfold by 2016), the number of connected devices (50 billion by 2020), and cloud traffic that will grow 66 percent a year between 2012 and 2015, according to numbers from Cisco Systems.

There are other trends that are driving the need for greater intelligence in multicore networking chips, from the rise of software-defined networks (SDNs) and the migration to 4G LTE networks to greater security and higher bandwidth demands.

Broadcom has a full range of 40nm chips, Khoo said. The NetLogic deal enabled the company to accelerate its 28nm ambitions. The XLP 200-Series is “just the first step in the 28nm process mode of which there will be many more products to come,” he said.

The new chips offer one or two MIPS cores that support quad-threading for each, and out-of-order execution capabilities. In addition, the chip’s Autonomous Acceleration Engine enables the offloading of processing tasks, which frees up the core to perform other compute-intensive workloads, according to Broadcom. Hardware accelerators, which act independently from the MIPS cores, can help speed up such tasks as packet ordering, network management and RAID5/6 storage.

From a security standpoint, Broadcom’s new chips offer what the company calls Total Security Acceleration Technology, which among other things includes an integrated grammar-processing engine, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) capabilities and a fourth-generation RegEx (regular expression) engine that takes data packets and compares the content in the packet with a database of security threats, Khoo said. Such capabilities, normally done by software in general-purpose cores, can now be done on the networking processors. The chips offload the security functions—which can be compute-intensive—from the CPU cores.

“[F]or end-users—the network administrators and IT experts—the technology that Broadcom now offers zeroes in on a subject that’s been top of mind lately: security,” Tamara Snowden, lead evangelist for the Broadcom’s Infrastructure and Networking Group, wrote in an Oct. 1 post on the company’s blog. “Protecting the network is always mission-critical, but in recent days, the subject has grabbed headlines as cloud providers, social networking sites and retail banks struggle to fend off malicious cyber-attacks on their Websites.”