SAN JOSE, Calif. — One of a handful of startups aiming to attack Broadcom’s dominance in Ethernet switching emerges from stealth mode this week. Nephos spun out of Taiwan’s Mediatek and will push packaging technology from TSMC to a new level.
Broadcom held a whopping 94.5% share of the $687 million market for merchant 10–40-Gbit/second Ethernet switch chips in 2015, according to Linley Group analyst Bob Wheeler. Nephos is the latest of three startups to emerge seeking a slice of that pie and one most likely to provide a mainstream alternative, he said.
Nephos — Greek for cloud — emerges at the annual Open Compute Project event this week. Facebook started OCP to drive open-source hardware standards for the needs of its sprawling and cost-sensitive data centers, an initiative that Microsoft and Google have since joined.
For its part, Nephos designed a 3.2-Tbit/second switch called Taurus that it hopes will cover four market segments with one software stack. Low-yield bins will provide 1.08- and 1.8-Tbit/s chips and two of the die side-by-side using TSMC’s InFO process will create a 6.4-Tbit/s chip to rival the Tomahawk II, Broadcom’s current flagship announced in October.
To date, the wafer-level integrated fan-out process has been used with smaller chips, such as Apple’s A series applications processors. A 3.2-Tbit/s switch is typically much larger and hotter, in the range of 150 to 200 W and 52 mm2, said Wheeler.
Click image to enlarge. (Source: Nephos)
Using the InFO process with such large and hot chips is a calculated risk for Nephos.
“That’s one piece of feedback that we got, but we have a test chip using the InFO technology that has gone through testing at our labs,” said Jessica Koh, head of marketing for the startup and a former head of product management for Brocade’s IP networking group.
“We expected to see other applications looking at InFO starting this year, such as data center applications,” said Jan Vardaman, president of TechSearch International, Inc. (Austin), a packaging specialist.
InFO places die side by side and attaches them using a redistribution layer above or below the chips. The technique can improve signal integrity and reduce noise and power, she said.
Koh expressed confidence for the engineering team at Nephos. “This is not a startup but a spin-off,” she said, noting that the group was incubated for five years at Mediatek and now includes engineers who have worked at Broadcom and Cisco.
Next page: Mediatek still holds reigns at Nephos