Startup switches from router chips to jump on Express
A former network processor startup re-launches itself as a PCI Express switch and bridge maker. IMC Semiconductor, formerly Internet Machines, is announcing its first products and starting a new round of discussions on its future with potential investors and semiconductor partners.
Founded in January 2000, Internet Machines developed switch fabrics and net processors for 10Gb routers until, "the industry hit a speed bump," deadpanned Frank Knuettel, president and CEO of newly renamed IMC.
"We were interested in finding a way to diversify away from communications yet still use our core expertise and design flow," added Knuettel.
In April 2002, Chris Haywood, the company's VP of engineering, spotted a way to do just that while reading a white paper on PCI Express freshly posted by Intel Corp. The startup could leverage its expertise cramming up to 64 serializer/deserializer devices on its switch fabric chips into building high-end Express bridges and switches for servers, graphics workstations and high-end gaming PCs.
Late last year, the company officially shelved its switch fabric designs and jumped on Express. Now IMC is announcing two product families.
The PES line of high-end Express switches includes two parts incorporating 48 2.5Gbps Express lanes. Sampling in June, the 48G for graphics is aimed at high-end gaming PCs, graphics workstations or adapter cards that want to drive two monitors from one graphics chip or use two graphics chips to drive one ultra high-end display.
Sampling in the fall, the 48S has five ports aimed to fan out Express I/O on servers and workstations.
Initial pricing for the 48G and S switches is $41 and $45, respectively. Follow on versions of the S parts with 32 and 24 Express lanes and aimed at adapter cards will sample at the end of the year and cost $30 and $23, respectively. Early design-tool kits for the switches will ship in March for a limited number of beta customers.
Knuettel said he is not aware of any vendors currently planning 48x Express switches. NEC and PLX Technology are developing 32X switches, mainly geared for backplane-based systems, he added.
IMC is also planning a family of PCI-to-Express bridges. The TED-20 links 4x Express to 64-bit, 66MHz PCI or 133 MHz PCI-X and will ship early next year. It will be followed by a TED-10 that supports 1x Express. Pricing for the parts has not been set.
Unlike bridges coming on the market from the likes of Intel and PLX, the IMC parts will sport a bi-directional capability for "reversible bridging to legacy devices," said Knuettel
"We anticipate 2004 will be a development and prototyping year and production revenue will begin in 2005," with a "pretty rapid" Express ramp next year, he added.
The company is exploring all options for its future. It has started talks with potential investors for a new round of venture funding. The startup is also exploring partnerships with established semiconductor companies who could provide sales channels for IMC's parts and give the company access to better foundry pricing at TSMC where its parts are made in a 130nm process.
The company is open to a possible acquisition by a semiconductor company, said Knuettel.
- Rick Merritt