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Microchip Enables PCIe Gen5 for AI

March 9, 2021

Author: Bob Wheeler

With Intel planning to ship its Sapphire Rapids server processor at year-end, the PCI Express Gen5 ecosystem is shifting into high gear. Microchip is sampling Switchtec PFX PCIe 5.0 switch chips to support that forthcoming Xeon, doubling the bandwidth of its earlier Gen4 chips. The new products complement its XpressConnect PCIe 5.0 retimers that sampled in 4Q20. Switch chips are an important PCIe component for systems that require more lanes or ports than host processors natively provide. Whereas all-flash storage arrays led Gen4 adoption, AI appliances will be first to consume Gen5 switch chips.

The Switchtec PFX PCIe 5.0 family comprises models with 28 to 100 Gen5 lanes and 16 to 52 logical ports, matching the density of Microchip’s prior generation. Each port is configurable as x1, x2, x4, x8, or x16, making the chips suitable for connecting SSDs (narrow ports) as well as AI accelerators and network interfaces (wide ports). Like the Switchtec Gen4 family, the new chips integrate dual CPUs for device management. They also handle multiple hosts (root ports) using nontransparent bridging (NTB), which is important for storage-system redundancy. The PFX PCIe 5.0 family is built in 16nm technology; Microchip withheld package, power, and pricing information.

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