Vote sets PCI technology on road to standardization

A next generation PCI (peripheral component interconnect) interface code-named Arapahoe is on its way to becoming an industry standard following a vote Friday by the PCI SIG (special interest group), the industry body that oversees PCI bus specifications. Arapahoe will eventually replace current PCI interfaces as products hosting the new technology begin to appear, officials said.

"The specifications are coming out over the next year or so," said Roger Tipley, the president of the PCI-SIG. "The early chips that would enable [Arapahoe] products should begin showing up in late 2003."

Arapahoe will allow data to move much faster from processors to system level components than do current PCI or PCI-X technologies, delivering better overall performance to PCs and other computing devices. PCI and PCI-X throughputs range from 133MBps to 1.1GBps. Arapahoe has the potential to run nearly 10 times as fast, according to those familiar with the technology.

"The transport will be different than what PCI is today, [and] the good news is that the software device drivers are compatible with what PCI is today. It doesn't have to change," Tipley said.

The decision to adopt Arapahoe was greeted by "overwhelming support" from the PCI-SIG board of directors who cast Friday's vote, Tipley said.

The proposal to go forward with the standardization of Arapahoe was offered to the PCI SIG less than two weeks ago by the Arapahoe Workgroup, a development group which includes representatives from Intel Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp., and Microsoft Corp.

Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) currently spearheads the development of another next-generation bus architecture called HyperTransport technology, which runs at 12.8Gps, according to AMD.

However AMD, which sits on the PCI SIG board of directors, regards its HyperTransport technology as complementary to PCI, PCI-X, and Arapahoe technologies.

"I guess we didn't do a good job of communicating [HyperTransport] in the past," said Gabriele Sartori, president of the HyperTransport Consortium and technology evangelist at AMD. "HyperTransport has never been intended to go against things like PCI-X. It enables those technologies.

"We are not against the technology [Arapahoe] and are not doing anything to stop anyone from implementing it," Sartori said. "We believe it is a natural extension of PCI."

The PCI SIG board of directors includes representatives from Intel, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, AMD, Microsoft, Phoenix Technologies Ltd., Texas Instruments Inc., and ServerWorks Corp.

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