PCI-X SIG Promotes Faster Throughput

SAN JOSE, CALIF. (03/15/2000) - Acknowledging a growing gap between processor speeds and server throughput, the director of architecture and design for IBM Netfinity servers told about 450 attendees of the PCI-X Forum here yesterday that "processor megahertz get all the glory, but I/O bandwidth wins the game."

PCI-X, a high-performance extension of the PCI local bus specification, delivers eight times the current I/O as standard PCI according to the PCI-X Special Interest Group, a consortium of over 800 companies, including IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Adaptec Inc., and ServerWorks, all aligned to standardize the new technology.

"PCI-X attacks the gap between ever-increasing processor speeds and server I/O," said IBM's Tom Bradicich. "Just last week we saw the launch of the 1GHz processor, making higher I/O bandwidth all the more crucial particularly for back-end servers and e-commerce transaction processors."

Other high-bandwidth PCI-X applications include the Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and Ultra 3 SCSI, according to the PCI-X group.

PCI-X slots are backward compatible to all 3.3-volt PCI cards, including 133MHz card and 66MHz cards. Throughput delivered through this compatibility is equal to the lowest common speed of the card and PCI-X slot.

"The question is whether or not to invest in PCI-X or wait for what's coming in the next couple of years," said Kenneth Jansen, the director of technical development for the industry standard server division of Compaq. "Switched fabrics are still several years in the future," said Jansen, referring to high-bandwidth solutions such as Intel's InfiniBand. "But PCI-X is here right now."

Still, some in attendance at the forum went away skeptical.

"[PCI-X] is a crap shoot," remarked John Birkner, co-founder of QuickLogic, a semiconductor company in Sunnyvale, Calif. "From any solution standpoint, there's really never enough bandwidth."

With separate camps of throughput solutions forming, such as System I/O, InfiniBand, and now PCI-X, one analyst said interoperability will begin with industry adoption.

"One of these solutions is going to prevail. But the question of whether or not a solution is good or not is irrelevant until somebody adopts it," said Joyce Becknell, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston.

The PCI-X SIG is at http://www.pcisig.com. IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., is at http://www.ibm.com. Compaq Computer Corp., in Houston, is at http://www.compaq.com.

Dan Neel is an InfoWorld reporter.

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