New Switch Families Aim to Break Down Complicated Network Infrastructure Walls

February 05, 2021 by Jake Hertz

Microchip is seeking to cut through the fog of network complexity with two new families—one family of Ethernet switches and one family of PCIe 5.0 switches.

Networking infrastructure is a very specific branch of electrical engineering. To a new engineer, learning networking can be a daunting task, especially considering the jargon used to describe protocols, networking layers, and the like. 


An example enterprise network infrastructure

An example of enterprise network infrastructure. Image used courtesy of Microchip


However, this complicated field doesn’t have to seem all that difficult as a hardware-focused EE. Many companies work tirelessly to make networking infrastructure more intuitive by designing easy-to-work-with ICs, switches, and routers.

Microchip is one such company, and this week alone, it has introduced two new families of network switches: one for Ethernet and one for PCIe 5.0. 


TSN on a Single Switch

Designed for industrial automation, Microchip’s newest family of Ethernet switches has been dubbed “SparX-5i.


Physical block diagram of the SparX-5i switches

Physical block diagram of the SparX-5i switches. Image used courtesy of Microchip


Microchip's goal for the SparX-5i is to bring time-sensitive networking (TSN) into a single chip as opposed to conventional multi-chip solutions. Microchip states that the SparX-5i family offers “a single-chip, IEEE standards-based solution that offers the industry’s most complete TSN feature set.” 

TSN looks to bring temporal determinism to the Ethernet protocol for real-time applications. For SparX-5i to support TSN, it is necessary to follow IEEE standards. In one chip, the SparX-5i family offers:

  • Time synchronization: IEEE 1588v2 and IEEE 802.1AS-REV profile
  • Traffic shaping: IEEE 802.1Qbv 
  • Delay reduction: IEEE 802.1Qbu/802.3br 
  • Stream policing: IEEE 802.1Qci 
  • Seamless redundancy: IEEE 802.1CB 


"Industry's First PCIe 5.0 Switches"

Microchip’s second release this week was a new family of PCIe switches called Switchtec PFX, which the company claims is the industry’s first PCIe 5.0 switches. 

The Switchtec PFX family was born out of a need to keep up with the increases in computing platforms driven by machine learning. As accelerators, GPUs, and CPUs all increase in performance, Microchip felt a need to advance the underlying PCIe infrastructure that ties these devices together.


Switchtec PFX
When connected with Microchip's Xpress Connect on downstream ports, the new switches are said to deliver ultra-low-latency mode. Screenshot used courtesy of Microchip


Microchip says these switches can achieve interconnect data rates of up to 32 gigatransfers per second (GT/s) while also providing up to 100 lanes, 52 ports, 48 non-transparent bridges (NTBs), and 26 virtual switch partitions. The switches also contain ECC capabilities and secure boot functionality built-in. 


Switch Innovations Advance Networking 

With SparX-5i and Switchtec PFX, Microchip aims to make networking infrastructure less complex and more advanced at the same time. 

SparX-5i aims to do this by synthesizing all of the required technology for TSN into a single chip. This advancement is said to significantly decrease design complexity from area requirements to BOM. 

Meanwhile, Microchip's goal for Switchtec PFX is to bring networking to the next level without increasing complexity. The company claims to be the first in the industry to bring PCIe 5.0 to switches, thus bringing networking up to speed with the rest of the computing world.