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From Aliens To Robots

Intel’s X-Lab: Tomorrow’s Network Happens Here
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From Aliens To Robots

As mentioned earlier, the bit error ratio target for 10GBASE-T is one in one trillion bits. Confirming that rate (or better) requires multiple kinds of tests, but the X-Lab’s standard test pass involves 500 million packets using 1518-byte frames transmitted for approximately 15 minutes.  One hundred of these test passes then comprise a single test trial, and there are many such trials during a product test cycle.

“The reason we do that—thousands of link attempts and hundreds of millions of packets—is that 10GBASE-T is a huge math problem that has to be solved in real-time,” said Pete. “You don’t always get the same answer, because it’s non-deterministic. Because of that non-determinism, you really want to do a lot of trials to make sure that the system is converging consistently over these different math problems. Note than the full test trial is executed on one cable type from one manufacturer on a two-meter length…then on a four-meter, on a seven, on a 20, on a 55, on a 90, and on a 100-meter channel. Finally, the entire set is repeated with different manufacturers. You can see that we easily end up transmitting trillions of packets during the qualification phase.”

To enable the kind of 24x7 testing necessary when pushing all of those packets during a product test cycle, the Intel team has developed several robotic solutions to automatically configure test channels. One of these is a third-generation robot called Patch that was two years in the making. If you’re expecting Johnny 5 or Asimo, you might be a bit disappointed, but Patch is still pretty freaking cool up close.

Patch is about six feet tall and three feet wide, comprised mainly of a frame, a LAN jack patch panel, and a couple of plugging/unplugging devices that slide along a shelf in front of that panel. Patch is tethered to a control PC and tasked with plugging and unplugging network cables from its patch panel…over…and over.

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