SAN JOSE, Calif. The transition to 10 Gbit/second Ethernet has been glacial in its pace. That's been due in part to the high power consumption and cost of transceivers for handling such data rates over copper cables that link most business networks.
Now Aquantia is disclosing progress on a 40 nm design it says could signal the start of a mainstream 10G market sometime late next year. The startup hopes to sample late this year the first members of a family of one- to four-port transceivers for the 10GBase-T standard that draw 3.5W per port for ranges up to 100 meters.
That's nearly half the 6W maximum power consumption for the company's current 90 nm single-port transceivers that come in a 20 x 20 mm BGA package. For lengths requiring no more than 10 meters, the 40 nm chips can draw as little as 2W maximum per port. A quad-port device will fit into a 29 x 29 mm BGA package.
The latest process technology—in this case from TSMC--is key to providing the performance at those power levels.
"I've done designs in every generation of Ethernet since about 100 Mbits/s, and it's all about getting to the right power and cost level," said Ramin Shirani, vice president of engineering at Aquantia. For 10G "that node is 40 nm not 65 nm, and we will be first to market with 40 nm quad-port chips," he said.
The 40 nm chips could be the first with power low enough to support use on server motherboards. The quad-port density could enable 48-port switches, a popular configuration, to move up to 10G rates.
The Aquantia design is still at a relatively early stage. The company has fabricated test versions of all the key analog modules, however it doesn't expect to have tape out on its first full transceiver for a few weeks.
"We have gone through three test shuttles, and it's been fully characterized in the lab against temperature, voltage and the whole nine yards," said Shirani. "The analog risk is off the table, and though we did some digital enhancements we kept the digital pretty much same" as the company's shipping 90 nm parts, he added.
The Aquantia transceivers, like most competing parts, are geared for use with Category 6A or Cat7 cables to reach 100 meters. That's a step up from the existing Category 5 cables most widely used today, another factor that has slowed adoption due to end user reluctance to re-wire their businesses.