Intel Shakes Up 10 Gigabit Ethernet Economics

Intel’s latest server processor isn’t just about servers, it’s about networking, too. Intel officially launched the Xeon E5 CPU this week, providing performance gains of us much as 80 percent over Intel’s previous generation server chips.

The E5 includes a new Intel Data Direct I/O system which will help to accelerate networking. The other networking component is a new 10 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) LAN On Motherboard (LOM) capability with the Intel X540 controller that provides an integrated 10Gbase-T solution. All together, Intel is aiming to lower the cost of 10 gigabit networking while accelerating overall networking performance.

“As we scale networks, we really need more bandwidth, driving down the cost of 10 gig Ethernet, so the transition from one gigabit to 10 gigabit can be accomplished,” Sunil Ahluwalia, Intel’s director of Product Marketing in the LAN Access Division, told

For Intel, the first step is about performance. The Intel E5’s new Data Direct I/O technology enables a network interface card (NIC) to communicate directly with the processor cache. Additionally, the E5 supports PCI Express (PCIe) 3.0 which delivers double the bandwidth of the previous PCI Express standard. According to Intel, an E5 chip can now pump out over 200 Gbps of throughput for LAN bandwidth, up from 50 Gbps in Intel’s last generation of server chips.

A key part for the LAN bandwidth improvement on the E5 is the integration of an I/O hub directly with the processor. In the previous Intel generation, there was a PCIe chipset that would talk to both the processor and the NIC.

“In this generation, we’ve essentially integrated that chipset into the processor,” Ahluwalia said. “That integration gives us some amazing latency improvements of up to 30 percent better latency.”

Utilizing Intel Data Direct I/O, networking traffic is further optimized as the NIC can write data directly into the CPU cache. As such, Intel is able to have more throughput as well as lower power utilization.Color shot of Intel Xeon wafer

Intel X540

Intel isn’t just enabling more network bandwidth with the E5, they’re also building a new NIC technology as well. The Intel X540 is a LOM technology that enables 10GbE traffic using 10GBase-T. 10GBase-T uses standard Cat6 copper cables with an RJ-45 interface, that are relatively cheap and common throughout the networking world. Other 10 gigabit technologies have involved the use of fiber and specialized cables that incur more cost and complexity.

“The X540 is the industry’s first 10 gigabit network controller that is fully integrated,” Ahluwalia said. “That integration allows us to lower the power, reduce space and enable LOM deployments.”

The X540 LOM deployment model with 10GBase-T can potentially be a significant catalyst for networking cost reductions in a data center, according to Intel. Ahluwalia noted that a typical Cat6 cable that might be needed for the X540 is only $5.00, in contrast with the hundreds of dollars that SFP+ networking cabling cost with non-10Gbase-T solutions.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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