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Netronome lays out their 22nm NFP-6xxx line

Netronome LogoNetronome is finally announcing their first chip family built on Intel’s 22nm process, the NFP-6xxx line. This is the spiritual successor to both Intel’s old IXP chips and Netronome’s earlier NFP-32xx parts.

We told you a bit about the NFP-6xxx chips last April, but the specs and name were not released at that time. Both were revealed last week along with many more details. These parts look very interesting, and Netronome is quite serious about using the process advantage they have to do what the competition hopefully can’t.

If you recall, the 32xx generation of Netronome CPUs was built on TSMC’s 65nm process and can support 8 million flows per chip. The new generation part aims to support over 10x that, so it needs to support over 200Gbps of full duplex data flows. By any measure that is a lot of data to pass along, much less to move and twiddle bits at the same time without hammering latency. If you look at the older reference architecture, you can see that there are more busses and internal connections than just about anything else.

Netronome architecture diagram

The old architecture

You may notice that the reference architecture is closely coupled with Intel CPUs, not a big surprise because Netronome was spun off from Intel a few years ago. While the new 6xxx line can still be coupled with Intel CPUs for more added processing power, they are now targeted at fully standalone operation. What the customers do with them is their call, but systems with and without an x86 CPU are equally feasible now.

One feature that makes standalone operation easier the NFP-6xxx line is KR compliant so they can plug directly in to a backplane. The chips also support direct optical converters, so no need for external hardware other than that necessary to change the format. All told, a single 6xxx part can support 48 10GbE ports directly connected to the device.

When talking about companies like Netronome that make networking or other low level chips, the clearest differentiator between those with cool hardware and those with cool hardware that succeeds is software. Netronome was quite adamant that they have some of the best software out there, from low level tools like a C compiler and a full profiler to higher level packages. Making a widget from a Netronome chip isn’t a turnkey experience, but the company says it is pretty darn close. Given the complexity of the chip, providing robust software is a must, and it sounds like that is what you actually get from Netronome.

So what does the NFP-6xxx do? Software Defined…


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