Back in April, Hackaday published a blog about SwitchBox, a company that makes a 45mm square, 5-port Ethernet switch. It can easily fit in the palm, and it’s a perfect product for the DIYer or custom integration geek. (Not everyone wants to build their switch).
The interest generated from that post inspired SwitchBox to create an even smaller Ethernet switch. This impetus is why the company has now made the SwitchBox Nano, a three-port 10/100 Ethernet switch that fits a one-inch square PCB. The Ethernet nano is the size of a quarter.
Why is this technology so intriguing? Because even in the PoE networking space, Moore’s law is evident. This phenomenon is a trend seen throughout the realm of technology development and involves integrating features and functionality while also reducing the size of the device.
Gordon Moore And His Impact On The Ethernet Switch
The number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles every two years.
Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder and author of Moore’s law.
This trend is seen most easily in the semiconductor industry and is widely understood as the shrinking process technology. Shrink refers to the scaling of metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) devices. It creates close to an identical circuit using an advanced fabrication process.
Why shrink integrated circuit technology? Reducing the size of an integrated circuit or IC also lowers overall costs for a chip company to produce it. The absence of significant architectural changes to processor chips lowers the cost of research and development. It makes room for more processor dies to be manufactured on the same piece of a silicon wafer.
The Die Shrink Process
Die shrinks are the key to improving price/performance at companies like Intel, TSMC, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and many others. In 1971, the first scaling of a device reduced the die to 10 µm (micrometer). By 1987, chip sizes reached 800 nm (nanometer). By 2001, IC broke through to 130 nm. This year (2020), the chip size reached 5 nm with an anticipated further reduction to 3 nm by 2022.
One reason why this is possible is the constant investment in the capabilities of the fab houses that produce these increasingly smaller ICs. Intel, for instance, employed a strategy called Tick Tock (not to be confused with the social media platform). By focusing investments on the capabilities of the fabrication groups where their designs are executed, they’ve been able to turn around new ICs with more enhanced feature sets on a regular basis.
Every other year Intel upgraded their fab plants. This strategy enabled them to produce processors with a smaller feature set, improve die area, power consumption, and slight microarchitecture optimizations. Further, new product launches based on a wholly unique (sometimes paradigm-shifting) microarchitecture made extensive performance upgrades possible.
Side Benefits To The Shrinkage
Die shrinks reduce the current used by each transistor switching on or off while maintaining the same clock frequency of a chip. Less area leads to lower power consumption (and thus less heat production). Chip producers get more ICs per wafer, and this results in lowered manufacturing costs per chip.
System On A Chip (SoC)
SoC has made possible things like web browsing, gaming, and all of the many functions found on smartphones or tablets. These massive capability expansions may also be found in many smart technologies that the PoE switch supports. The use of platform technology is also part of this feature set, but the IC’s continued compression has made the smartphone possible.
ICs And The Inside Of A PoE Switch
This insides of a switch consist of a variety of components soldered to a circuit board. These include chips and other components that send and receive data packets between power devices, wide and local area networks and the internet.
- Replication Engine allows duplication of packets to send copies to all the needed clients.
- Forwarding Engine routes and forwards data correctly.
- Output Queues are high-speed memory modules that pace the packet flow.
- Switch fabric allows concurrent signals to transmit simultaneously.
- MAC (Media Access Control) for an up to 10Gb Ethernet port acts as a signal encoder for an SFP interface.
- Linksec processes encryption for line rate cryptography.
All of these functions are addressed in any Ethernet switch. The PoE switch also sends power to compatible devices, eliminating the need for nearby power sources.
The Nano Ethernet switch is a smaller and cheaper version that can maintain full electrical isolation between each port. For most of us, this switch is like a Shetland pony. We appreciate the beauty of it, but when it comes down to our day to day responsibilities. We find a full-sized model more practical.
How Moore’s Law Applies To Standard Sized Ethernet Switches
Take the BSP-360 Industrial Renewable Energy 4-Port 10/100/1000T 802.3at PoE+ Managed Ethernet Switch. This model is a renewable energy industrial hardened switch. In addition to the internal PoE and IT networking capabilities, this model also offers a green energy solution for renewable battery recharging. It provides the potential for solar, wind, and water generated power.
Besides being designed for outdoor operation, it has smart power-management features, including current battery life status by percentage and low voltage cut-off protection. This unit makes it possible to deploy high-resolution cameras in remote locations. It switches into low power mode during non-peak hours.
According to Investopedia.com, updated August 27, 2020, the experts agree that computers should reach the physical limits of Moore’s Law in the 2020s.5 The high temperatures of transistors eventually would make it impossible to create smaller circuits. This eventuality exists because cooling down the transistors takes more energy than the amount of energy that already passes through the transistors.6
In a 2007 interview, Moore himself admitted that “…the fact that materials are made of atoms is the fundamental limitation and it’s not that far away…We’re pushing up against some fairly fundamental limits, so one of these days, we’re going to have to stop making things smaller.
Please visit our product page for more information on PLANET Technology’s industrial Ethernet products.
5. MIT Technology Review. We’re Not Prepared for the end of Moore’s Law.
6. IEEE Spectrum. Forget Moore’s Law–Chip Makers Are More Worried About Heat and Power Issues.