PCI Express gains momentum at Bus and Board Conference

The future impact of PCI Express technology, Intel's next-generation backplane interface, was clear at the Bus and Board Conference, held by the VMEbus International Trade Association (VITA; Fountain Hills, AZ, USA; www.vita.com) in Long Beach, CA, USA, January 2004.

The future impact of PCI Express technology, Intel's next-generation backplane interface, was clear at the Bus and Board Conference, held by the VMEbus International Trade Association (VITA; Fountain Hills, AZ, USA; www.vita.com) in Long Beach, CA, USA, January 2004. PCI Express significantly increases bandwidth between the central processing unit (CPU) and add-in peripheral boards by enabling a balanced distribution of bandwidth. This is especially important in applications such as graphics and machine vision applications.

Offering significant changes over PCI, the PCI Express architecture should be universally adopted between notebook and desktop PCs, workstations, and servers, reports In-Stat/MDR (Austin, TX, USA; www.instat.com). The market-research firm expects that the increased performance, improved latency, and quality of service presented by the new architecture should lead to rapid adoption, with the first PCI Express chipsets hitting the market in volume in the second quarter of 2004.

The PCI Express architecture represents a third attempt to establish a universal input/output (I/O) architecture for PCs, servers, workstations, storage systems, communications systems, and embedded systems. The second attempt, PCI, is still the primary architecture for the vast majority of PCs and has become the most common standard backplane interface for other markets-especially the embedded market. The need for increased speed in servers, and for graphics in higher-end machines, led to PCI offshoots, PCI-X and Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) respectively, which fragmented the PCI market. "Leading PC vendors all have PCI Express on their roadmaps, and its adoption in new PCs beginning this year is certain," says Brian O'Rourke, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR.

At the September 2004 Intel Developer Forum, Intel (Santa Clara, CA, USA; www.intel.com) demonstrated its first chips based on PCI Express technology and introduced several new programs and tools to help accelerate adoption of PCI Express Technology, including the PCI Express IT Network cofounded with Dell Computer (Round Rock, TX, USA; www.dell.com). Using its next-generation server and workstation chipsets, code-named "Lindenhurst" and "Tumwater," the server chipset demonstration used a Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) networking application to show how PCI Express technology enables direct connections to high-bandwidth adapters without an I/O bridge chip.

Larry Chisvin, vice president for marketing of PLX Technology (Sunnyvale, CA, USA; www.plxtech.com), outlined the most recent developments in PCI Express technology. PLX Technology is a supplier of I/O interconnect silicon to the communications, server, storage, and embedded-control industries. "In what will prove to be a watershed year for the standard," he said, "a significant number of companies have already announced products or their intention to build products based on the PCI Express architecture." These include Fibre Channel-to-PCI Express devices from Emulex (Costa Mesa, CA,USA; www.emulex.com) and QLogic (Aliso Viejo, CA, USA; www.qlogic.com); Ethernet-to-PCI Express chipsets from Broadcom (Irvine, CA, USA; www.broadcom.com) and Intel; and Infiniband-to-PCI Express chipsets from Mellanox Technologies (Santa Clara, CA, USA; www.mellanox.com). PLX Techology itself will also announce a number of switching and bridging products very soon.

"The designer of add-in machine-vision and graphics boards," says Chisvin, "could take a number of approaches in their designs." To achieve a fast time to market, one approach could be to respin an existing PCI-based board using a PCI-Express bridge chip. "This way, the design would be physically compatible with the new architecture and backward compatible with PCI."

In the high-performance graphics arena, where PCI Express is expected to replace the AGP standard, for example, Matrox Graphics (Dorval, QC, Canada; www.matrox.com) has already signed an agreement to license PCI Express nVS verification tools from nSys (Fremont, CA, USA; www.nsysinc.com) for use in its chip design efforts. According to nSys, Matrox engineers are now using PCI Express nVS product to verify the correct operation of the PCI Express interface in IC designs.

Other early add-in board announcements include NVIDIA (Santa Clara, CA, USA; www.nvidia.com) showing its PCI Express architecture at the Consumer Electronics Show (www.cesweb.org) in Las Vegas, NV, USA. According to the company, the PCI Express bridge chip design will be used to interface to a variety of NVIDIA's graphics processing units. Not to be left out, S3 Graphics (Fremont, CA, USA; www.s3graphics.com) announced full support for the PCI Express initiative with a line of graphics processors planned for late 2004.

Information About PCI Express

Intel Developer Network for PCI Express Architecture www.express-lane.org
PCI-SIG www.pcisig.com
ASI-SIG www.asi-sig.org
PCMCIA www.pcmcia.com

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