Freescale, Tilera Unveil New Networking Processors

The chips are aimed at helping businesses ease the bandwidth crunch on networks caused by such trends as BYOD, mobile computing, video and cloud.

Tilera and Freescale Semiconductor are both coming out with new processors targeting corporate networks that are increasingly finding themselves under pressure from the explosive growth of mobile devices, network traffic and cloud computing.

Freescale on Oct. 10 unveiled four additions to its QorIQ T1 and T2 families of 64-bit processors, including the T1040, a quad-core chip with an integrated Gigabit Ethernet switch that the company calls a “router on a chip.”

At the same time, Tilera, which already sells 16- and 36-core 64-bit processors for data center servers and has plans to go even higher in the core count, is unveiling the Tile-Gx9. The nine-core processor, which can be used for general-purpose computing, multimedia applications and storage devices, is primarily viewed as a chip for networking infrastructures to help in such areas as application delivery and network packet brokering and monitoring.

The news from Freescale and Tilera comes a week after officials with rival Broadcom announced the company is sampling 28-nanometer, low-power communications chips from its upcoming XLP 200-Series. The chips, which will be in volume production in the second half of 2013, are the first fruits from Broadcom’s $3.7 billion purchase of NetLogic Systems and are aimed at such environments as software-defined networks (SDNs) and 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) deployments by service providers.

All this comes as businesses and service providers are working out how they are going to handle the rapid growth of mobile devices that are accessing their corporate networks and the resulting skyrocketing increase in traffic moving over those networks.

“The network is changing significantly, mainly because of the significant adoption of smart devices,” Bernd Lienhard, vice president and general manager of Freescale’s Networking Processor Division, told eWEEK.

The adoption can be seen in such trends as bring your own device (BYOD), with employees looking to use their own smartphones and tablets to gain access to the corporate network and data. Add in other trends—cloud computing, mobile computing and the increase of video in the Internet traffic—and demand for bandwidth on networks is growing rapidly, Lienhard said.

With the new additions, Freescale is expanding its QorIT portfolio beyond its quad-core 1.4GHz T1042 chip, which was announced in June. In the T1 family, Freescale now has the dual-core 1.4GHz T1022 and T1020—which features an integrated GbE switch—and the quad-core T1040 (also with an integrated Ethernet switch) and T2081, with up to eight virtual cores and running up to 1.8GHz.

The new chips help businesses deal with the issue of “how to extend the scalability of the network,” Nikolay Guenov, marketing director of Freescale’s Networking Processor Division, said, noting that the company is now offering a portfolio of scalable multi-core chip options that are pin-compatible. The chip family addresses “a very broad range of applications.”

The integrated GbE feature offers users optimized system performance and allows for less complex and costly systems that also can have a smaller footprint, Guenov said.

In addition, other features of the chips include the company’s Data Path Acceleration Architecture (DPAA) engine, share virtualization technology and next-generation security offerings. They also include power management capabilities by leveraging a variable-mode power switch, which lets customers modulate the power of the cores with greater precision. Such energy management features are increasingly important, given OEMs’ need to drive down the power consumption of their systems.

Freescale is aiming the chip family at enterprise switches and routers, industrial computing and networking, and unified threat management (UTM) security appliances. The company will sample the T1040 in the third quarter of 2013, with other T1 and T2 products coming soon after.

For its part, Tilera’s Tile-Gx9 offers a nine-core processor with an integrated memory controller, Ethernet and PCI Express interfaces, and a power envelope of 10 watts. The new chip offers a strong performance-per-watt story, running at 1GHz to 1.2GHz with 3MB of total cache and the company’s MICA acceleration engines. It also will consume about 10 watts of power, about half that of chips from the likes of Intel.

The Tile-Gx9 can be used for a host of different jobs, from general-purpose computing to storage devices. However, Bob Doud, director of processor strategy for Tilera, said he envisions the chip will be most popular in networking devices and for multimedia applications, such as video. Server vendors tend to demand more powerful processors for their systems, Doud told eWEEK.

“In general, server [makers] want a brawny node,” he said.

Tilera already offers the Tile-Gx16 and Gx36 chips, and the company is planning to develop processors with even more cores, he said. However, the Tile-Gx9 is designed to best handle such compute and I/O-intensive jobs as network routers and firewall appliances, intrusion prevention and detection, UTM systems, networked storage environments, wireless access controllers, and streaming video and content delivery, including high-definition video conferencing, according to the company.

Systems makers are looking for high-performance, low-power processors to meet the growing demands from enterprises running hyperscale data centers or cloud computing environments, Web 2.0 and hosting companies, and service providers that need highly energy-efficient systems.

Tilera is among a number of companies creating chips to meet that demand. ARM Holdings, whose low-power chip designs can be found in most smartphones and tablets, is looking to move its architecture up the ladder and into the data center, and some top-tier OEMs—such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell—are developing ARM-based servers. At the same time, stalwarts Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are driving down the power consumption of their x86-based chips.

Like ARM, Tilera bases its architecture on RISC, while wrapping its own technologies around it, including its iMesh on-chip network that supports an advanced virtual memory system. The 40nm Tile-Gx9 offers nine 64-bit cores connected via iMesh and with a lot of I/O and memory capabilities. The cores are set up in a three-by-three array, with each core supporting 32KB of L1 I-cache, 32 KB of L1 D-cache and 256 KB L2 cache; in addition, there are 2.3MB of L3 coherent cache across the device.

TheTile-Gx9 chips, available immediately, offer up to 12 ports of GbE and two ports of 10GbE, as well as numerous PCI Express controllers that can be used as either root complex or endpoints.