Intel expands Gigabit Ethernet lineup

Network managers who need fast pipes to servers, workstations and PCs will see Gigabit Ethernet become less expensive and more widely available with the introduction of three Intel Corp. Gigabit Ethernet interface chips, the company said Monday.

The company unveiled at the Intel Developer Forum here a high-performance interface controller for workstations, a controller for servers that integrates two interfaces for failover and load-balancing and a controller optimized for desktop PCs. All are single chips that control a system's communication with the network.

Gigabit Ethernet, the next step up from 10/100M bps (bits per second) Ethernet, offers a maximum 1000G bps connectivity to a network. It is commonly used in MAN (metropolitan area network) and enterprise LAN backbones and increasingly is being used in servers and workstations to provide fast connectivity to LANs.

The chips unveiled Monday, 45 percent smaller than Intel's last Gigabit Ethernet chip, are designed for integration into a motherboard, taking up the same amount of space as Intel 10/100M bps chips that are being placed on motherboards now, said Tim Dunn, general manager of Intel's LAN Access Division. The size makes it easier for manufacturers to put Gigabit Ethernet on high-density blade servers or to quickly and inexpensively upgrade a product from 10/100M bps to 10/100/1000M bps Ethernet, he added. All the Gigabit Ethernet controllers can use a 10M bps or 100M bps connection if other parts of the network have not been upgraded to Gigabit Ethernet.

The Intel 82545EM Gigabit Ethernet controller for high-speed workstations offers a single interface and supports the 133MHz, 64-bit PCI-X bus interface. The 82546EB controller for servers, the same size as the 82545EM, includes support for two Gigabit Ethernet connections so one can take over if the other fails. The two physical connections can also be used simultaneously, with the traffic load balanced between them, Dunn said. That chip also supports the PCI-X busThe 82540EM controller supports a single Gigabit Ethernet connection and is optimized for desktop PCs. It also includes all the standard power-management features for mobile PCs, Dunn said. A controller optimized for mobile systems is planned for later release, he added. Because the 82540EM takes up the same amount of space as Intel's 10/100M bps Ethernet controller chip, manufacturers can offer Gigabit Ethernet without having to design a new motherboard.

Enterprises should start buying PCs with Gigabit Ethernet to future-proof their networks, according to Dunn. Common business applications such as databases, network-based backups of PCs, and large file transfers increasingly require enough bandwidth to take advantage of the speed.

"A 20M-byte file is not a huge file today," Dunn said. "By the middle of the 2004-2005 time frame, you need to be doing (Gigabit Ethernet) all the way to the desktop" to keep up with new applications. Upgrading systems later will cost much more than buying the higher speed now, he added.

The latest chips, made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. using a 0.15 micron process, bring Gigabit Ethernet close to the price of 10/100M bps connectivity, he said.

The chips are available now in sample quantities and will be available later this year, according to Intel. Suggested list prices will be as follows: US$89.95 for the 82546EB, $59.95 for the 82545EM and $34.95 for the 82540EM.

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