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Computex: Broadcom demos 5G Wi-Fi, shows us the future

Networking products are in general fairly dull things, although it’s something none of us can live without in this day in age, at least not if we want to stay connected to the internet. Broadcom jumped on the 802.11ac or 5G Wi-Fi bandwagon very early on and at Computex the company was showing off the first partner implementations as well as some other interesting products, such as its new router SoC which is actually quite a mind blowing product.

Beyond routers from Asus, Buffalo, Edimax and Netgear, Broadcom was also displaying two products from Asus that actually allows you to take advantage of the performance of 802.11ac, namely Asus’ just announced G75VW gaming notebook and a new Wi-Fi Go! module from Asus that will apparently be shipping with some of Asus’ high-end motherboards.

Also on display was what is currently known as a NGFF module or next-generation form factor module which is a new standard for PCI Express based Wi-Fi modules that will go into Ultrabooks and tablets. About the size of a postage stamp – that is if anyone remembers what size they are – the new PCI Express based cards are not only smaller, but also thinner.

There are in fact a total of six different modules that make up the NGFF standard, all in various sizes with the largest one being the one generally referred to as the “gum stick” which is used for SSDs. The card on display featured a 2×2 MIMO and Bluetooth combo solution with Broadcom’s BCM4352HMB controller and the card itself is based on the smallest NGFF module size known as type 1630.

However, the most impressive demo in terms of home network was that of Broadcom’s new StrataGX SoC which will launch in the second half of this year. The company will offer two different versions of the StrataGX, one for consumer and one for small business implementations, but we’ll focus on the consumer model here. The new SoC does of course sport support for Broadcom’s 802.11ac Wi-Fi modules, but it’s also backwards compatible with the previous 802.11 standard. It sports an integrated Gigabit WAN/LAN switch, something that is usually done by a third party chipset in almost all consumer level router, but we’ll get back to this in a second.

Broadcom has also included native support for USB 3.0 StrataGX which means that no longer will we have to suffer for mediocre performance when attaching storage devices to a router. One potential application would also be for an integrated router/NAS for those that are looking for a more discrete solution at home.

As for the slightly more technical details, the StrataGX is a dual core ARM Cortex-A9 SoC with clock speeds of up to 1GHz depending on model, support for DDR2 or DDR3 memory at speeds of up to 1600MHz and USB 3.0 support. It also has native PCI Express, USB 3.0, SDIO3 and S/PDIF audio support, so we might even end up seeing it in some home gateway type products. However, the integrated switch is actually the really cool feature here, or rather the fact that Broadcom has integrated a high-performance traffic accelerator. The problem with your average router these days is that it simply can’t deliver the full speed of internet connections beyond somewhere around 50-100Mbps depending on the hardware inside, but thanks to the traffic accelerator in the StrataGX and its integrated switch, it can deliver full Gigabit speed from the WAN port to any of the ports on the LAN side.

This might sound like an over the top feature at the moment, but even with a slower internet connection, Broadcom claims that the StrataGX will help reduce latency and improve things like video streaming and online gaming.

We were also told that it will offer a better multi-user experience than your average router and thanks to its power gated SoC, the chip will draw as little as 100mW at idle, while powering back up in just a few milliseconds.

Kitguru says: It looks like routers just got some really high-end hardware and although initial products are expected to be fairly costly; Broadcom didn’t expect the pricing to be any higher than current top-of-the-range routers.

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