Monday, February 11, 2002

Fairchild responds to marketplace shift, moves to LVDS

Published in Interface Tech News

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine ‹ Reacting to the increased prevalence of low voltage differential signaling (LVDS) as a device-communication protocol, Fairchild Semiconductor is now manufacturing a high-speed crosspoint switch for use as a building block of more complex devices.

"Our role on this is low functionality, high performance," said Paul Kierstead, Fairchild's interface marketing director.

Fairchild spun out of Santa Clara, Calif.-based National Semiconductor five years ago and aimed for the niche of simple, high-performance components to be used as elements of a wide variety of electronic equipment.

Getting data moving at higher rates between devices in networking equipment is an important factor in expanding overall throughput.

With the older transistor-transistor logic (TTL) bus technology, in which data is broadcast to all devices on the bus, Kierstead said, "You've got to get wider to get faster."

LVDS, by contrast, operates over pairs of wires directly connecting components. The receiver looks at the difference between the two signals, allowing for noise to be eliminated from the transmission. While it does require two wires where before one would suffice, Kierstead said, it can reach speeds of 622 megabits per second, as compared with 64-bit bus speeds.

Fairchild's new switch converts between TTL and LVDS, Kierstead said, allowing manufacturers to choose the best mix of technologies for their purposes. "It really begins to tie the signaling level issues together," he said.

The crosspoint nature of the switch improves its versatility, he said. "It allows you to have multiple inputs that are switchable and routable to multiple outputs," Kierstead said.

With only two ports, it is small, but faster and easier to manage than some of its larger competitors, which get as big as 128 pairs in and out, Kierstead said.

"This is the building block of the crosspoint switch," he said. Fairchild will start from this base, he added, and move to larger arrays of switches with additional functionality. He noted that the company plans to move into packet-oriented switches, as well.

Fairchild is also working on optimizing power consumption, and sees that area as a major opportunity for growth.

Analyst Charles Mantel, vice president of Mountain View, Calif.-based Selantek, said Fairchild seems to be holding up well.

"Nobody's had a great time of it," Mantel said, but Fairchild is not doing as badly as some of its competitors. "They went less downhill than many companies," he said.