Taking the PCI Express

PCI Express (PCIe), a new bus architecture for computers as of last year, is quickly making its way from the enthusiast PC builders to the mainstream. With it is coming Wi-Fi support right on the PCIe bus.

Earlier this month, Broadcom announced a new 802.11a/g chipset, the BCM4311 — a chipset with small footprint designed pacifistically for PCIe. Never to be outdone, arch rival Atheros this week announced its own 802.11a/g chip (AR5006EX) and 11b/g chip (AR5006EG) for PCIe, both of which are single-chip solutions that integrate everything: MAC, baseband, and radio.

“This isn’t meant for desktops, but it could be used there. What drives it is the use of PCI Express in notebooks,” says Mark Hung, director of strategic marketing at Atheros. “Intel is behind that drive. PC OEMs are going to make laptops with PCI Express in a few months—it will replace the miniPCI form factor.” Intel’s Centrino brand uses Wi-Fi chips currently installed via miniPCI cards in laptops.

As you’d expect, the Atheros PCIe chips will support all of the Atheros performance enhancements, such as eXtended Range and Super G and A/G turbo modes. The Broadcom chips, likewise, support Broadcom’s enhancements like BroadRange and 125 High Speed mode.

Hung says the Atheros solution is cheaper due to the lower cost on the bill of materials (BOM) of components—in fact, the two chips only need one side of a printed circuit board. Atheros did not announcing pricing, however.

Both company’s PCIe chips are sampling now, and will be in volume later this year.

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