SAN JOSE, Calif. — Freescale and Broadcom are going head-to-head with new processors for mainstream communications systems targeting software-defined networking (SDN).
Freescale announced today its QorIQ LS2 SoCs using four to eight 64-bit ARM Cortex-A57 cores at up to 2 GHz. The high-end parts are ambitious for ARM-based designs, roughly comparable to Broadcom's XLP500 chips announced last week.
The XLP500 is based on up to eight quad-issue, quad-threaded, out-of-order MIPS cores. Although technically a midrange chip, falling between Broadcom's XLP200 and XLP900 chips, it matches or surpasses the performance of competing high-end processors, according to analysts at market watcher The Linley Group.
The XLP500 has the same or better raw performance of the two new chips. It also sports two 40 Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces, compared to multiple 10GbE links on the Freescale parts.
The Broadcom chip is sampling now, with production expected in the fall. The Freescale chip is not expected to sample until later this year and may not be in production until 2015, said Jag Bolaria, a senior analyst with The Linley Group.
"If you want to design something now, the XLP or LSI's Axxia may be your best bets," he told us. "But, and if you can wait until next year for production, the Freescale chip has some better capabilities, especially for software-defined networking and network functions virtualization."
Bolaria said he expects the Freescale LS2 will be easier to program for packet processing jobs, thanks in part to its approach to using memory and the autonomous way its accelerators operate. In addition, the ETSI standards group defining network functions virtualization (NFV) standards is converging on ARM and x86 chips, another factor favoring the ARM-based LS2, he said.
Although the two chips are similar in cost, the Broadcom part lacks the integrated Ethernet switch that could save money for OEMs that need it. Bolaria also gives Freescale an edge in overall power consumption.
Both the Broadcom and Freescale parts sport a handful of accelerators. Linley analyst Tom Halfhill told us Broadcom's "public-key crypto engine is particularly impressive, nearly reaching the performance of dedicated security co-processors like Freescale's C29x and Cavium's Nitrox III."
Both companies' chips target emerging standards in SDN and NFV. SDN and NFV represent separate but related efforts to migrate networking tasks from low-level hardware and software into higher-level software.
Broadcom announced last month its own API for SDN. A Freescale representative said its chip focuses on handling Linux objects which it sees as essential to SDN's future.
An executive in Hewlett-Packard's communications group expressed support for Broadcom's NFV interface, speaking in a Broadcom press statement.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times
— Jessica Lipsky contributed to this report.