Intel Launches Ethernet Chips Tuned for Multicore Processors
Published: August 2, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Chip maker Intel may be known best for its microprocessors and chipsets, but it makes other kinds of circuits in the server ecosystem. In fact, the company announced last week that it has completed the design of two chips that manage Ethernet communications, which will eventually make their way into Gigabit Ethernet (GE) and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GE) cards from Intel and, very likely, third-party card makers who OEM the products.
Intel introduced its first Ethernet controllers 25 years ago, and with the new circuits it is actually introducing its second generation of 10GE chips. Back in 2004, when Intel first shipped 10GE circuits, these network interfaces were used mostly as an interconnect between high speed switches that acted as Internet backbones. But with video on demand, storage archiving, high performance computing, and other high-bandwidth server workloads becoming more prevalent, the time has come for 10GE to start going mainstream. By the same token, both GE and 10GE network interface cards need to have better support for virtualized, consolidated server environments, since a physical server will have many more virtual slices, each of which needs what appears to be dedicated NICs.
Intel is shipping the new GE circuits today, which it calls the 82575 controller. This chip supports a dual-port GE interconnect, with legacy support for 10 Mbit and 100 Mbit Ethernet. The chip supports PCI-Express 2.0 x4 peripheral interconnects, and has four queues per port as well as four virtual queues. By supporting TCP/IP traffic sorting based on MAC address or 802.1g tags, the right data can be shipped to the right virtual machine on a server or PC, thereby eliminating some of the traffic cop overhead that virtual machine hypervisors currently cope with. The 82575 controller also has support for Intel's I/O Acceleration Technology (I/OAT) electronics, which were added to the Core family of chips to help offload network functions from the CPU and thereby give it more resources to do actual work. I/OAT gives NICs direct access to chip caches, for instance, substantially speeding up the movement of data from the network to the CPU without causing the CPU to do the work of finding it. According to Intel, preliminary tests show that these features, which are operating system agnostic, can reduce CPU overhead by around 11 percent.
Intel is sampling the 82598 10GE controller today and will start shipping the chip in September. This chip has similar features to the new GE chip. The 82598 controller enables a dual-port NIC, but this one is geared to a PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slot. It has 32 transmission and 64 receive queues and supports 16 virtual queues as well. This is a lot compared to the GE chip, and aims to improve links to multicore processor chips.
Intel will ship a NIC based on the 82575 chip in the fourth quarter, and will ship a NIC based on the 10GE chip late in the third quarter. Pricing was not announced for the chips. Intel has lined up four of the top six network card OEMs to use the chips.
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