IDF - Intel targets network chips for low cost

Intel aims to provide the guts of network gear for homes and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with three new processors it announced Thursday at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Jose, California.

The IXP420, IXP421 and IXP422 further extend Intel's line of network processors, which stretches from chips for carrier and large enterprise equipment to those for home and small office gear. The processors are designed for network system makers that want to outsource the development of the chips inside their gear and take advantage of Intel's chip expertise and resources. Buying network processors rather than developing them in-house can help vendors get new products on the market more quickly and less expensively, according to Intel.

The three new chips are intended as less expensive, more targeted alternatives to the IXP425 processor, which was introduced last year, said Stephen Price, customer marketing manager for Intel's network processor division. Each is optimized for certain uses, though they still can be used in a variety of ways.

The IXP422 includes cryptography capabilities for security and is intended for residential gateways, wireless access points and SME switches and routers. The IXP421 can support both data communications and VoIP (voice over IP). The IXP420 is optimized for broadband devices such as home gateways and small-office routers. When Intel designed the IXP420, it had in mind a broadband gateway with a wireless LAN access point, Price said.

All the chips can support a variety of LAN and WAN (wide area network) interface types, including DSL (digital subscriber line), cable broadband, T-1 leased lines, wireless LAN and wired Ethernet, Price said. An integrated PCI interface allows vendors to integrate new network interfaces, he added.

Like the high-powered IXP2400 and IXP2800 processors introduced at last year's Spring IDF, both intended for large enterprise and carrier network equipment, the new processors are based on the chip maker's XScale core. They also are compatible with the IXP425, so vendors that use that chip already can build on their earlier development work.

Network vendor Linksys Group Inc. said Thursday it will use the IXP422 in a forthcoming line of wireless LAN access points for value-added resellers, wireless system providers and business customers.

The IXP422, a single-chip package that incorporates the processor, security and PCI bus, will let Linksys integrate encryption capabilities into the access points. It also allows for a single platform with a mini-PCI slot that can accommodate 802.11a, 802.11g or dual-band 802.11a+802.11g chipsets and radios depending on customer demand, said Mike Wagner, director of marketing at Linksys. The products are expected to ship in the second quarter.

Linksys was able to start working on products based on the IXP422 even before samples were available, using the compatible IXP425 as the development platform.

"We'll be able to roll all the designs to the 422 platform when it's available," Wagner said.

The IXP420 and IXP422 will ship in sample quantities in April and become generally available in June. The IXP421 will sample in July and be generally available in September. In quantities of 10,000 units, the IXP420 will cost US$20.90 each, the IXP421 will cost $22.80 and the IXP422 will cost $22.30. By way of comparison, pricing for the IXP425 ranges from $26.60 to $61.80 depending on speed and temperature requirements, according to Intel.

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