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Marvell Has Low-Cost 10GbE For Home Users But Demand Is Still Low

Our heart was broken again at Computex 2017 after failing to find multigigabit consumer devices lining the walls from our favorite companies.

Don't get us wrong, year after year we find more devices like desktop motherboards with 10-gigabit and the new 2.5- and 5-gigabit (Multigigabit) Ethernet standard. The high-performance interconnects come on many NAS products either with the technology built-in or as an option with a low-cost add-in card. We've even seen the technology available on NAS systems that cost as little as $500. Yet even with the inclusion in other markets, the feature is only found on premium desktop motherboards designed for enthusiasts or those marketed as "ultimate gaming" boards. The premium price for many of those boards is often higher than the cost of an add-in card, barring a few motherboards released in mid-2017.

We had a special meeting with Michael Zimmerman, VP and GM of the Networking Group at Marvell, to get the latest information on upcoming products. Zimmerman has a wealth knowledge for all things networking. He is an insider with first-hand experience working with companies in the network market from the massive datacenter systems to $39 products sold in big box stores.

Prior to our meeting, Zimmerman met with one of the largest companies responsible for big box sales. We were told there is interest in multigigabit for the home, but the demand is still very low. High speed WiFi and increased Thunderbolt 3 adoption will slow demand for higher-than 1GbE Ethernet even more, since those technologies have already entered commodity status, or will do so in the coming year, in Thunderbolt 3's case. It's our opinion that the multigigabit standard will also hurt the adoption rate of 10GbE, but we understand how older twisted-wire embedded in existing homes makes it a difficult standard to push out into the market. Many homes built in the last decade, when it became fashionable to do so, use Cat 5e, a standard that isn't officially supported for 10GbE speeds.

In the image above we see an enterprise switch. We can use it to break down some of the issues involved. On the left side we see wire 10GbE ports with the typical RJ45 connector. There are twelve total, and for every four you need a PHY. On the other side we also see twelve ports but with the SFP+ connector. Those ports do not require a PHY. The lack of additional silicon in the path is why SFP+ 10GbE switches are more cost effective. If you've shopped for a used 10GbE switch then you already understand the premium involved with the technology over standard RJ45  connectors. SFP+ would be a nightmare in the typical home for many reasons so we won't even try to argue its a reasonable option even though we do use it in our lab.

The PHY adds quite a bit to the overall costs, but they also increase heat in the system. The cooling components required to manage those raised temperatures, as well as more complex designs, further increase cost.

Marvell has designs that move the PHY to software, but that increases the CPU power required. The company also has smaller versions of the silicon shown on this reference design that reduce the port count and overall cost. Most home users don't run a switch in addition to a network router. It would be interesting to see how many users, even power users, purchase a router and replace the free or monthly fee unit given by the service provider. If we are waiting on Comcast and other providers to adapt 10GbE or multigigabit then hell may actually freeze over before that time comes. If there is one thing we know, deploying high-speed connections, in the U.S. system of government-endorsed internet monopolies, is a slow process.

Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.