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Intel to adapt PC specs to networking

The chipmaker will promote the Advanced Switching spec, a derivative of the PCI Express standard for servers and PCs, for connecting chips and circuit boards inside networking gear.

Intel will promote the Advanced Switching specification, a derivative of the PCI Express standard for servers and PCs, for connecting chips and circuit boards inside of networking equipment.

Advanced Switching will, ideally, cut the cost and improve the performance of networking equipment, said Eric Mentzer, chief technology officer of Intel's Communications Group. Currently, switches connect and data shuttles between components inside routers by way of chips that are often on PCI--a sturdy but aging standard--or through customized chips, which can cost a lot to develop.

"PCI ended up in communications equipment, but we didn't expect it to," said Mentzer, who worked on the original PCI spec a decade ago.

Advanced Switching will be able to shuttle data around much faster than PCI. PCI runs at 133MHz while PCI Express, the mother spec of Advanced Switching, starts at 2.5GHz. Concurrently, Advanced Switching chips will cost less to make than customized chips because they can be mass-produced to a specification.

Promoting standards in the networking world is one of the main focuses of Intel's money-losing Communications Group, which makes chips for carriers and network-equipment makers. For years, these companies largely conducted product development and design on their own. When the downturn hit, the companies laid off tens of thousands of employees.

Intel is betting that these slimmed-down companies will be more amenable to standardized parts from outsiders than in the past, and the strategy seems to be paying some dividends. A number of manufacturers have rallied around the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture, an open framework for building telecommunications equipment. Still, the entire communications industry remains mired in a funk.

The Advanced Switching specification is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said Mentzer, and chips embodying the standard should come out by the first half of 2005. Products incorporating the chips should then emerge in the second half of that year.

Components for PCI Express will come out at the end of this year, while products containing such chips will emerge in 2004.