It’s all in the Details
Both Molex and TE Connectivity agree that any minor change in a design or channel can have a big impact on performance.
“At 25 Gbits/s minor changes can have significant impacts on performance, and if you’re not doing that level of interoperability testing there is a risk when you change suppliers that there is going to be a modest change in electrical performance that can affect the channels,” said Dambach.
“It’s not that easy to second source. There is a lot that needs to be taken into account. By working cooperatively with another vendor we try to resolve a lot of the risks for our customers with multiple sources for very high-speed products,” he added.
“When we started 25 Gbits/s development five or six years ago, we had the expression that at 25 Gig every detail matters. Now that we’re shipping those 25 Gbits/s products, it becomes obvious to us every day that every detail is a big deal and so important, said Tracy.
“Tiny little differences and details do effect the performance,” he added. “Today we’re leading the charge to 50 Gbits/s and it is challenging. At the same they have to be produced at a cost that is competitive with 25- or 10-Gbits/s product.”
Tracy noted that all the design and manufacturing details need to be produced in a high-volume manufacturing process that will give customers the cost they need. “It’s really a very challenging environment. We found ways to do it but every day you have to come to work looking for the next solution that will enable us to keep ratcheting things up and up again.”
Certainly materials come into play, said Tracy. “In some cases, customers are looking at using Megtron 6 and Megtron 7 materials on their circuit boards to get to the next generation of performance but those come with cost penalties to the customer so we’re trying to find ways to improve the connector enough to avoid going to those more expensive circuit board materials. If we achieve that performance in the connector, we can save them costs for upgrade materials and other aspects of their design.”
At the same time, customers are looking to upgrade their existing 10 Gbits/s interfaces, particularly for the backplane connector, so they operate over new generation line cards at 25 Gbits/s, Tracy said. “We’re finding ways to upgrade the speed of old connectors through control of new geometries and materials. It’s also the science that we bring to the design process.”
One example of a product that has future upgradeability is TE’s STRADA Whisper high-speed backplane connector system, which is currently used in systems today at 10 to 15 Gbits/s. This system continues to be upgraded to handle higher data rates up to 56 Gbits/s with a path to 100 Gbits/s. In addition, it offers a significant range of configurations, including direct plug orthogonal, midplane orthogonal, mezzanine, and cables that all deliver at least 56 Gbits/s.
Work in high-speed data applications also requires working closely with customers. In addition to providing the connector performance, connector manufacturers also need to work with customers on channel analysis to ensure the very high-speed link will work, said Dambach.
“We’re more involved not as connector suppliers but as partners in the development of the entire channel,” he added.
Some of latest new products under development from Molex include the zCXP system, a 12-lane interconnect that can support 12 25 Gbits/s lanes or 300 Gbits/ in one cable interface. Molex is tooling this product now and is already finding interest from router and switch manufacturers.
Molex also developed a product for the new OCuLink standard, driven by PCI-SIG. While the standard originally focused on mobile applications, the Molex Nano-Pitch I/O connector, selected as the OCuLink interface for the PCI Express 4.0 spec, is finding homes in many enterprise applications such as storage to support denser disk arrays and solid state drives.
The Nano-Pitch I/O interconnect system is capable of 25 Gbits/s per lane for PCI Express Gen 3 and SAS-4 interface standards. The system supports ribbon cables for improved cable management and better cooling performance in enclosures, and can implement 4x, 5x or 6x high-speed lanes, providing bandwidth up to 150 Gbits/s.
Another new high-speed solution includes Molex’s NeoPress high-speed mezzanine system that offers a unique triad structure, enabling the universal housing to populate 85 ohm, 100 ohm and power triads in any housing slot. It supports 28 Gbits/s high-speed signal transmissions.
Most leading connector makers, including Molex and TE Connectivity, are also working on 56 Gbits/s designs in order to provide product in two to three years.
“We’re looking at 56 Gbits/s NRZ channels. These products are complex and challenging enough that we need to start now to be in position to supply products in a three-year time frame,” said Dambach.
Molex recently demoed its Impel Plus Backplane Connectors at DesignCon. The system provides data rates up to 56 Gbits/s, and includes a grounding tail aligner, which allows for smaller signal compliant pins and optimizes signal integrity performance, said the company.