Marvell announces some very smart SmartNIC processors

Marvell's Octeon 10 DPU packs the processing power of a server CPU but it’s for network management.

Marvell has begun to sample the Octeon 10, a server microprocessor aimed at intelligent network management that has up to 24 Arm-compatible cores, making it as powerful as any server processor.

Marvell refers to the Octeon processor line as data processing units (DPUs). They are designed to run high-throughput data in the cloud and on-premises. The DPU is more commonly called the SmartNIC because it can offload non-computational tasks from the CPU like network packet processing, data encryption and compression. That frees up CPU cores to run general-purpose applications.

The Octeon 10 has a few firsts. It's the first processor made by TSMCs 5nm manufacturing process and the first processor to feature Arm’s Neoverse N2 core. The N2 core uses the new Armv9 architecture that the company claims can deliver 40% more single-threaded performance for a variety of workloads vs. the N1, but still retains the same level of power and area efficiency as N1.

Marvell said the Octeon 10 line, which ranges from eight to 36 cores, is three times faster than its predecessor, the Octeon TX2, and draws half as much power. Marvell is positioning the chip as an edge-network processor to perform packet filtering and some machine-learning tasks on a 5G wireless network.

In addition to machine-learning functions, the Octeon 10 includes cryptography-acceleration units, packet parsers, and support for DDR5, PCIe 5.0 interconnects, and up to 400G Ethernet. It also has inline functions for IPSec, and  vector packet processing (VPP), a means of processing multiple packets at once to reduce latency.

Marvell said the Octeon 10 will be available by the end of the year.

First 5nm PAM4 Device

In addition to Octeon, Marvell announced what it claims is the industry’s first 5nm 50G PAM4 device for the carrier market, the Prestera DX 7321 Ethernet switch. The new switch is meant for 5G fronthaul and edge connectivity and to work in tandem with the Octeon 10.

With the addition of the new Prestera device, Marvell’s carrier-optimized switch portfolio now comprises four Ethernet switches that scale port speeds from 1Gbps to 400Gbps with aggregate bandwidths ranging from 200Gbps to 1.6Tbps.

The switch is designed to provide faster data transfers along the back-end of 5G infrastructure. It supports OpenRAN, a hardware and software effort to decouple 5G network hardware by making it interoperable with products from different vendors.

The 5nm Prestera switch is available today.

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