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A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips

Twelfth Edition

Published May 2016

Authors: Bob Wheeler and Loring Wirbel

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Evaluating and Comparing the Latest Ethernet Switches and PHY Chips

The Ethernet market is marked by technology transitions, which often result in large shifts in vendor share. Over the past several years, large data-center operators have increased the pace of technology innovation, creating markets for new speeds and new physical layers. These dynamics are behind the introduction of high-density 100G Ethernet switch chips and the emerging 25G and 50G Ethernet standards. The same operators also have a huge appetite for inter-data-center bandwidth, creating early demand for 400G Ethernet.

In Ethernet switches, Broadcom, Cavium, Centec, Intel, Marvell, and Mellanox are competing to win market share in data centers. These vendors are adding 100G Ethernet support along with new features for SDN and NFV. For data centers, most PHY development now focuses on 100GbE gearbox or retime chips using 25Gbps serdes technology, with 50Gbps PAM4 on the horizon. Enterprises are instead embracing new 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps speeds that make use of installed UTP cabling.

Ethernet is the interconnect of choice in the enterprise and data centers, while service providers are mixing circuit-switched optical-transport networks with Carrier Ethernet for access and aggregation. Due to the varied demands of access, aggregation, and transport designs, vendors such as Broadcom, Centec, Marvell, and Microsemi (Vitesse) have introduced a variety of switch chips tailored to specific segments.

The large size of the Ethernet switch and PHY market continues to keep it a competitive environment. "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" breaks this market into several key segments:

  • Enterprise switch chips
  • Data-center switch chips
  • Carrier Ethernet switch chips
  • 10GbE PHYs for copper (10GBase-T)
  • 10GbE/40GbE optical transceivers
  • 100GbE gearbox PHYs and 25Gbps retimers

Unlike typical market research, this report provides technology analysis and head-to-head product comparisons. Which chips will win designs and why? How will these vendors be positioned as 100GbE ramps? Only The Linley Group’s unique technology analysis can provide this forward-looking view.

We Sort Out the Technology and the Key Vendors

“A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips” begins with an extensive overview of this dynamic market. The report provides tutorials that help you decipher the myriad of acronyms and Ethernet standards. We explore the target markets and applications for Ethernet silicon, followed by an explanation of the common attributes of these products.

Following these introductory chapters, the report delivers a complete chapter on four major vendors: Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and Microsemi (Vitesse). Each major-vendor chapter includes company background information, full details of announced products, a discussion of the vendor’s roadmap, and our conclusions about the vendor and its products. Then, for each product segment, we include a chapter covering other vendors and a chapter comparing the products in the segment.

Product-segment chapters include coverage of switch chips and PHY chips. We cover switch chips from Cavium (Xpliant), Centec, and Mellanox, while we provide brief coverage of stealth-mode Barefoot Networks. For the physical layer, we focus on 10Gbps Ethernet-over-copper chips, 40GbE optical PHYs, and 100Gbps gearbox PHYs and retimers. Covered PHY vendors include AppliedMicro, Aquantia, Inphi, and MoSys. Finally, we offer our outlook for the leading vendors in each segment and for the overall market.

Make Informed Decisions

As the leading vendor of technology analysis for networking silicon, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at the full range of chips designed for GbE/10GbE/40GbE/100GbE applications. Principal analyst Bob Wheeler and Senior Analyst Loring Wirbel use their broad experience to deliver the deep technical analysis and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

Whether you are looking for the right Ethernet chip for your application or seeking to partner with or invest in a chip vendor, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Make the intelligent decision, order "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" today.

This report is written for:

  • Engineers designing Ethernet switch products or systems that embed an Ethernet switch or PHY
  • Marketing and engineering staff at companies that sell related chips who need more information on Ethernet chips
  • Technology professionals who wish an introduction to Ethernet chips
  • Financial analysts who desire a detailed analysis and comparison of GbE, 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE semiconductor companies and their chances of success

This market changes rapidly, don't be left behind!

Principal Analyst Bob Wheeler and Senior Analyst Loring Wirbel detail the new products, changing vendor landscape, market trends, and forecasts.

Updates to the Twelfth Edition of "A Guide to Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips" incorporate new announcements made since the release of the previous edition.

  • Coverage of Broadcom’s new Hurricane 3 and Ranger 2 Ethernet switch chips
  • Coverage of Marvell’s Prestera DX421x switch, Alaska C 100GbE gearbox and retimer, and Alaska X3340 NBase-T PHYs
  • Coverage of Mellanox’s new Spectrum 100GbE switch
  • Coverage of MoSys’ 100GbE retimer and MLG PHYs with RS-FEC
  • Updated company background reflecting acquisitions of Broadcom (Avago) and Vitesse (Microsemi)
  • 2015 preliminary market size and vendor share for GbE switch chips, 10GbE switch chips, and 10GbE PHYs
  • Updated market forecasts for GbE, 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE switch chips as well as 10GBase-T PHYs, from 2014 - 2019
  • Product comparisons updated to include the latest chips

This report examines Ethernet switch chips and physical-layer (PHY) chips for a range of applications. We look at 10G Ethernet (10GbE), 40G Ethernet (40GbE), and 100G Ethernet (100GbE) switch chips for data centers; Carrier Ethernet switch chips; and Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) switch chips for enterprise designs. The 100GbE switch chips also serve pre-standard 25G Ethernet and 50G Ethernet rates. We cover 10GBase-T (copper) PHYs, 40GbE optical PHYs, and 100GbE gearbox PHYs and retimers. The newest 10GBase-T chips also handle pre-standard 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps rates over twisted-pair cabling.

The market for Ethernet chips was once dominated by enterprise applications but now relies on cloud data centers and service providers for growth. In data centers, Cisco’s ASIC-based Nexus designs hold majority revenue share, but virtually every other OEM and ODM system design uses ASSPs. The rising white-box movement also threatens to loosen OEMs’ hold and shift the market toward bare-metal systems built by ODMs. Hyperscale-data-center operators are driving the early ramp in 100G Ethernet switch chips, which enable 25G and 50G Ethernet for server access.

In 2015, however, 10GbE dominated data-center switch shipments. We estimate combined 10GbE/40GbE switch- and PHY-chip revenue reached $1.0 billion in that year, driven by fixed-configuration switches for top-of-rack (ToR) and leaf/spine use.

Although we refer to them as optical PHYs, 10Gbps serdes components also serve in SFP+ direct-attach cabling. Because most new ASSP and ASIC designs integrate these serdes, the market for standalone optical PHYs has begun to decline. By contrast, switch chips won’t integrate 10GBase-T PHYs for the foreseeable future. As a result, 10GBase-T PHY revenue exceeded $100 million for the first time in 2015. An emerging opportunity exists in 100GbE PHYs based on 25Gbps serdes technology. Owing to signal-integrity challenges, we expect an increasing portion of switch designs will require retimers between switch ASSPs/ASICs and optical modules.

Carrier Ethernet is another bright spot, as service providers increasingly use Ethernet and TCP/IP to replace legacy protocols. Backhaul and aggregation networks, particularly in China, are driving demand for GbE and 10GbE components. These networks have unique requirements, such as timing synchronization, that help support higher chip prices.

The vendor landscape for Ethernet chips comprises only two suppliers that have broad product portfolios as well as many suppliers with narrower offerings. Following several years of consolidation through acquisitions, the vendor base is once again expanding as new entrants target emerging opportunities in data centers and software-defined networking (SDN).

Broadcom has remarkably managed to transfer its leading share in Gigabit Ethernet to newer markets such as Carrier Ethernet switch chips, 10GbE/40GbE switch chips for data centers, and 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. In fact, its Trident family dominates among ASSP-based data-center switch designs. In 2015, the company shipped several new 28nm chips for 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE designs, the latter including its Tomahawk switch. Avago’s recent acquisition of Broadcom has had little impact on the Ethernet switch and PHY products.

Marvell is Broadcom’s biggest Ethernet competitor. After falling behind its archrival in several segments, Marvell refreshed its portfolio by introducing a series of 28nm products over the past several years. Although the company has yet to match the breadth of Broadcom’s line, it offers competitive products across several important segments. Financial problems and management changes cloud its future, however, raising questions about Marvell’s roadmap.

Intel offers Ethernet switch chips that derive from its 2011 acquisition of Fulcrum Microsystems. Before 2015, it shipped conventional 10GbE/40GbE switch chips that compete with those from Broadcom and others. Intel’s most recent product, however, is a unique chip that combines an Ethernet switch with multiple host controllers. This product works with the company’s Xeon server processors in new rack architectures and in network appliances.

InfiniBand leader Mellanox is a relatively recent entrant in Ethernet switch chips and is shipping 40GbE and 100GbE products. The company has strong technology and an excellent record of product execution. It primarily sells system-level switch products, however, limiting its impact in the chip market.

Microsemi, which acquired Vitesse in April 2015, is the other established vendor offering Ethernet switch chips. It addresses Carrier Ethernet access, industrial networking, and SMB designs using low-power GbE switches. Cavium, through its spin-in of Xpliant, is the newest entrant in data-center switching. It offers a 100GbE switch chip with a uniquely flexible design. Based in China, startup Centec initially targeted Carrier Ethernet designs, but its newest products also address enterprise and data-center designs.

Many vendors serve the PHY market, but because PHY technologies vary widely, most target only one or two standards. Inphi was first to market with a 100GbE gearbox chip developed in CMOS technology; it expanded its portfolio by acquiring Cortina, a vendor of 10GbE/40GbE optical PHYs. Startup Aquantia emerged as one of the early 10GBase-T leaders and pioneered the NBase-T specification for 2.5G/5G Ethernet.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1 Networks and Equipment
Evolution of Ethernet LANs
Cable Plants
Ethernet Clients
Data Centers
Carrier Networks
Wireline Access
Wireless Access
Ethernet Equipment
SMB Switches
Desktop Switches
Data-Center Switches
Modular LAN Switches
Carrier Ethernet and Packet-Optical Transport Platforms
Wireline Access Equipment
Wireless Access Equipment
2 Ethernet Technology
Network Layers and IEEE 802 Standards
Link Layers
Spanning Tree and VLANs
Data Center Bridging
Link Aggregation
Authentication and Security
Carrier Ethernet
Provider Bridging
Carrier Ethernet Services
OAM and Protection Switching
VM Switching
Timing Synchronization
Hierarchical Traffic Management
Ethernet Physical Layers
Fast Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet
10GbE Optical
40GbE and 100GbE
Backplane Ethernet Standards
Energy Efficient Ethernet
Physical-Layer Interfaces
Optical Modules
Related Protocols
Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCoE)
QoS and DiffServ
IP Routing and Multicast
Equal Cost Multicast Routing Protocol (ECMP)
Network Management
Power Over Ethernet
Fabric and Host Interfaces
PCI Express
3 High-Speed Design Issues
Signal Integrity
Crosstalk and EMI
Channel Effects: ISI and Reflections
Impairments on Fiber
PCB and Connectors
Signal Conditioning
Clock and Data Recovery
4 Ethernet Switch and PHY Chips
Switch Chips
Common Characteristics
System Design
Software Considerations
GbE-Over-Copper PHYs
Common Characteristics
10Gbps Ethernet PHYs
Optical-Module Architecture
Optical-PHY Architecture and Common Characteristics
Copper-PHY Architecture and Common Characteristics
Interoperability and Compliance
40Gbps and 100Gbps Ethernet PHYs
5 Technology and Market Trends
Software-Defined Networks
Open vSwitch
Open Compute Project
Tunneling Protocols
Network-Functions Virtualization (NFV)
Emerging Ethernet Rates, PHYs, and MSAs
200G and 400G Ethernet
100GbE PHYs and MSAs
25G and 50G Ethernet
25GBase-T and 40GBase-T
2.5G and 5G Ethernet
Ethernet-Silicon Technology Trends
Data-Center Switch Chips
Enterprise Switch Chips
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Optical-PHY Chips
10GBase-T PHY Chips
6 Market Outlook
Market Share
Market Size and Forecast
ASSPs for Ethernet Switching
10GbE PHYs
7 Broadcom
Company Background
Switch-Chip Features
StrataXGS Switch Chips
StrataDNX Switch Chips
Switch-System Design
10Gbps-and-Above PHYs
Nx10Gbps Serial Transceivers
10Gbps Copper Transceivers
100Gbps Transceivers
Product Roadmap
8 Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Design Details
Product Roadmap
9 Marvell
Company Background
Switch Chips
Enterprise and Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Data-Center and 10GbE Switch Chips
System Design
10Gbps-and-Above PHYs
10Gbps Copper Transceivers
Nx10Gbps Serial Transceivers
100Gbps Transceivers
Product Roadmap
10 Microsemi
Company Background
Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Design Details
10Gbps PHYs and CDRs
Product Roadmap
11 Other Switch-Chip Vendors
Barefoot Networks
Cavium (Xpliant)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
12 Other PHY Vendors
Company Background
100Gbps Gearbox Transceiver
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Inphi-Heritage Products
Cortina CS43xx Family
13 Switch and PHY Comparisons
Comparing Data-Center Switch Chips
25GbE/100GbE Switch Chips
10GbE/40GbE Switch Chips With 100GbE Uplink Ports
Key Differentiators
Comparing Carrier Ethernet Switch Chips
Key Differentiators
Comparing Enterprise-Access Switch Chips
Key Differentiators
Comparing 10-100Gbps PHYs
100GbE Gearbox and Retimer Chips
40GbE Optical PHYs
10GBase-T Copper PHYs
Key Differentiators
14 Conclusions
Vendor Outlook
Other Switch Vendors
Other PHY Vendors
Closing Thoughts
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1-1. Typical enterprise-LAN architecture.
Figure 1-2. Typical data-center components.
Figure 1-3. Generic network architecture.
Figure 2-1. IEEE 802 standards.
Figure 2-2. IEEE 802.3 basic frame format.
Figure 2-3. VPLS switch conceptual model.
Figure 2-4. Hierarchical traffic management.
Figure 2-5. Ethernet physical layer.
Figure 2-6. 10G Ethernet physical layer.
Figure 2-7. Layer model for 40G/100G Ethernet.
Figure 2-8. Modules and interfaces for 10Gbps applications.
Figure 2-9. 40GbE and 100GbE modules and interfaces.
Figure 3-1. Data transmission across connectors.
Figure 3-2. Data transmission using pre-emphasis.
Figure 3-3. Impulse response and equalization.
Figure 3-4. Conceptual diagram of a phase-locked loop.
Figure 4-1. Block diagram of a typical GbE switch.
Figure 4-2. Simplified block diagram of a single-port GbE PHY.
Figure 4-3. Architecture of a generic SFP+ optical module.
Figure 4-4. Block diagram of a 10Gbps serdes.
Figure 4-5. Block diagram of a generic 10GBase-T PHY.
Figure 4-6. Block diagram of a typical gearbox chip.
Figure 5-1. P4 abstract forwarding model.
Figure 5-2. Comparison of microQSFP, QSFP-DD, and CFP8 MSAs.
Figure 6-1. Worldwide market share for 10GbE switch chips, 2014–2015.
Figure 6-2. Worldwide market share for 10Gbps optical PHYs, 2014–2015.
Figure 6-3. Worldwide market share for 10GBase-T PHYs, 2014–2015.
Figure 6-4. Worldwide market share for Gigabit Ethernet switch chips and multi¬port PHYs, 2014–2015.
Figure 6-5. Forecast of Ethernet switch-ASSP revenue, 2014–2019.
Figure 6-6. Forecast of 10G Ethernet port shipments by medium, 2014–2019.
Figure 7-1. Broadcom 32x100GbE ToR switch.
Figure 8-1. Internal architecture of Intel FM10000.
Figure 8-2. Quad-socket server using Intel FM10000.
Figure 9-1. Marvell converged enterprise-access switch design.
Figure 10-1. Microsemi 24xGbE+2x10GbE stackable Carrier Ethernet switch.
Figure 11-1. Block diagram of Cavium CNX880xx switch.
Table 2-1. OSI reference model.
Table 2-2. Ethernet PHY standards.
Table 6-1. Worldwide market share for 10GbE switch chips, 2014–2015.
Table 6-2. Worldwide market share for 10Gbps optical PHYs, 2014–2015.
Table 6-3. Worldwide market share for 10GBase-T PHYs, 2014–2015.
Table 6-4. Worldwide market share for Gigabit Ethernet switch chips and multi¬port PHYs, 2014–2015.
Table 6-5. Revenue forecast of Ethernet switch ASSPs by speed, 2014–2019.
Table 6-6. Industry revenue and ASP of discrete 10GBase-T PHYs, 2014–2019.
Table 7-1. Key parameters for selected Broadcom switch chips.
Table 7-2. Key parameters for Broadcom StrataDNX devices.
Table 7-3. Key parameters for selected Broadcom Nx10Gbps transceivers.
Table 7-4. Key parameters for Broadcom 100Gbps transceiver chips.
Table 8-1. Key parameters for selected Intel Ethernet switch chips.
Table 9-1. Key parameters for selected Marvell Prestera DX products.
Table 9-2. Key parameters for Marvell 10GbE switch products.
Table 9-3. Key parameters for Marvell 10GBase-T PHYs.
Table 9-4. Key parameters for Marvell 10Gbps optical PHYs.
Table 9-5. Key parameters for Marvell 100Gbps transceiver chips.
Table 10-1. Key parameters for Microsemi Ethernet switch chips.
Table 10-2. Key parameters for Microsemi PHYs and signal conditioners.
Table 11-1. Vendors of GbE, 10GbE, and 100GbE switch chips.
Table 11-2. Key parameters for Cavium Xpliant switch products.
Table 11-3. Key parameters for selected Centec Ethernet switch chips.
Table 11-4. Comparison of Mellanox Spectrum and SwitchX-2 chips.
Table 12-1. Vendors and status of 10Gbps-and-above Ethernet PHYs.
Table 12-2. Key parameters for AppliedMicro 100Gbps gearbox chips.
Table 12-3. Key parameters for Aquantia AQrate PHYs.
Table 12-4. Key parameters for Inphi 100Gbps PHYs.
Table 12-5. Key parameters for Inphi CS43xx PHYs.
Table 12-6. Key parameters for selected MoSys LineSpeed 100GbE PHYs.
Table 13-1. Comparison of 25GbE/100GbE switch chips.
Table 13-2. Comparison of 10GbE/40GbE switch chips with 100GbE uplink ports.
Table 13-3. Comparison of high-end Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 13-4. Comparison of midrange Carrier Ethernet switch chips.
Table 13-5. Comparison of 2.5GbE-enabled switch chips for enterprise access.
Table 13-6. Comparison of 100Gbps gearbox chips with RS-FEC.
Table 13-7. Comparison of 100GbE retimers.
Table 13-8. Comparison of 40GbE retimers with EDC.
Table 13-9. Comparison of quad-port 10GBase-T PHY chips.


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