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Wireless Networking Communications Hardware

Broadcom Crams 802.11n, Bluetooth, and FM Onto a Single Chip 174

Broadcom has managed to cram 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and FM reception/transmission all into a single "combo wireless chip." Designed to be a better wireless implementation for portable devices, the chip seeks to lower chip counts and integration costs. "Broadcom is the second firm — following Atheros in a single-function chip — to announce a single-stream 802.11n product, in which one of 802.11n's advantages is shaved off in favor of a faster baseline performance and lower battery consumption. This move is meant to replace 802.11g in portable devices without draining a battery faster and providing other advantages that make up for what's become a slight cost difference."
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Broadcom Crams 802.11n, Bluetooth, and FM Onto a Single Chip

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  • by utahraptor ( 703433 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:32PM (#26040263) Homepage
    They can sell the same hardware in 3 versions charging more for each one depending which features are enabled.
    • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:34PM (#26041105)

      They can sell the same hardware in 3 versions [802.11n, Bluetooth, and FM] charging more for each one depending which features are enabled.

      So that's why my portable FM radio has two detachable antennas, four ethernet ports that don't seem to do anything, and flashable firmware!

      • It's little different than what nVidia and ATI have done to their reference boards in the past. Different numbers of pipelines and clocks just disabled in firmware.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by p0tat03 ( 985078 )

          To their credit it wasn't *that* evil. Pipelines and clocks were turned off/down based on manufacturing defects, so it's not as if they placed some arbitrary restriction on your hardware for no good reason, although most would run quite well at boosted specs.

    • by Arthur Grumbine ( 1086397 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:56PM (#26041359) Journal
      1) Broadcom Bluetooth 2.0+EDR adapter
      2) Broadcom 802.11n adapter
      3) Broadcom FM receiver/transmitter
      4) Broadcom Office Pro:
      802.11n with BONUS Bluetooth!! Let's you stay connected and productive WHEREVER you go!11!
      5) Broadcom Mobile:
      802.11n with BONUS FM radio!! Great for connecting to your friend's Wifi AND playing tunes through your car radio!!11!
      6) Broadcom Media Pro:
      Bluetooth 2.0+EDR with BONUS FM radio!! Play radio directly to your Bluetooth headset ZOMG!!11!
      7) Broadcom Ultimate*:
      802.11n with BONUS Bluetooth AND FM radio!!11! For the person who has EVERYTHING!1!11!!

      * - requires 4GB of RAM for all features
    • You mean 9 versions.

  • Broadcom is crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rewter ( 189441 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:38PM (#26040367)

    Broadcom wireless chipsets are crap. And I am speaking out of real embedded system design experience here.

    • Re:Broadcom is crap (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hordeking ( 1237940 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:48PM (#26040541)

      Broadcom wireless chipsets are crap. And I am speaking out of real embedded system design experience here.

      Agreed, but from a different perspective. Their support for users running Linux is atrocious. I absolutely hate purchasing a wireless PCI card from a major maker only to find they've changed chips between revisions, and the new chip doesn't have drivers. Of course, the makers are just as guilty, since they don't mark the packaging in any way.

      • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:17PM (#26041575)

        A significant linux deployment project was once abandoned by a client of mine because it was impossible to spec a PCI 802.11/g card.
        There's no way to identify a product meaningfully, and no way to make the order repeatable. The few vendors who will guarantee linux support for a device, would only do so at an unacceptable price, and it was clear that they had no better way of guaranteeing it than the consumer did.

        I know there have been a few cards that have stable chipsets (e.g., certain 3COM models). This doesn't really help the situation.

        The wireless-compatability HOWTO is good for a laugh. There are devices listed that were only available for a short time, only in certain countries, and many devices that, given the same part number, get you several completely different cards.

        I lost count of the number of times I was referred to that list when shopping for a vendor that would guarantee delivery and repeatable support of a card that would work.

        What really stunk about the whole thing was that wireless internet was fast becoming "the killer app" for computing in many sectors, and Linux missed the boat. You can say it's not "linux's fault" but, why in the hell aren't the people who got rich off Linux, also sitting on the boards of some of these companies? Or at least, competing with them so that it's not possible, business-wise, to be openly hostile to Linux developers? Not "supportive", mind you, just not flatly hostile please. It's as if the directors of Broadcom used their leverage in an active campaign to keep Linux off portable computers.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          You can say it's not "linux's fault" but, why in the hell aren't the people who got rich off Linux, also sitting on the boards of some of these companies

          Eh? Who's gotten rich off Linux? From what I can see most of these companies are barely hanging on.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by davolfman ( 1245316 )
            Arguably it might be Broadcom given all the linux firmware that used to go into the routers that used their chips.
        • Intel Intel Intel.

          Intel cards use Intel chips and Intel chips are well-supported.

          PS, I'm not pro-Intel in general, but Intel does support Linux.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Klaus_1250 ( 987230 )

      Which ones aren't? Ralink has that famous will-randomly-disconnect-wpa-connections bug. Broadcom has the issue with not having open drivers. Which leaves Atheros? Marvell? ...

      • Re:Broadcom is crap (Score:5, Informative)

        by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:35PM (#26041121) Homepage

        Intel wireless chipsets work essentially flawlessly and are opensource

        • Bull.

          Intel wireless chipsets will work out of the box, yes, but they have issues crashing due to heavy performance and after resuming from sleep/hibernate.

          I would not call them flawless.

        • No, they don't. One of their older A/B/G chipsets (2915) was atrocious, even under Windows. It could only do WPA/WPA2 at B speeds. You could eventually find a version of their driver that worked for G+WPA, but you'd then expose yourself to all sorts of security problems. I believe that their similar vintage B/G chipset had nearly identical problems with WPA.

        • "essentially flawlessly"? Not at all. I had two intel 2100 cards that I had to replace with Aetheros cards because of a well known bug [] in their firmware which Intel just never felt like fixing.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )


      dear Braodcom...

      drop the really stupid FM radio thing. How about making a not-crappy chipset?

      There is nothing any crappier than broadcom products.

  • So many ways to spy on you.
  • Broadcom? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by some_guy_88 ( 1306769 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:42PM (#26040441) Homepage
    Awww, that'll never work on linux..
    • by Abreu ( 173023 )

      Sad but true... NDISwrapper anyone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Culture20 ( 968837 )
      Sure it will, after some diligent hackers create the drivers and a firmware loader. Assuming, of course, that Broadcom hasn't spent their research dollars purposefully obfuscating the thing.
      • Re:Broadcom? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:55PM (#26040625)

        Broadcom is one of the last remaining holdouts that doesn't give out chip specs for their networking devices. Because of this, it's *very* difficult to create decent linux drivers for their chips.

        • Re:Broadcom? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:03PM (#26040753) Homepage

          Meanwhile, the manufacturers who play nice with Linux are reaping the benefits of the Linux-running hardware tinkerer's credit cards.

          This isn't rocket science... the more places your device can work, the bigger your market. Their spec obfuscation is akin to DRM - it only needs to be broken once for it to become globally worthless, yet if you don't use it in the first place then your loudest users will praise you.

          What's there for Broadcom to gain by making it harder to write drivers? Surely it's in their best interest to have Linux support, especially given it's massively widespread use in the embedded devices market.

          • Re:Broadcom? (Score:5, Informative)

            by IorDMUX ( 870522 ) <mark.zimmerman3@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:43PM (#26041205) Homepage

            What's there for Broadcom to gain by making it harder to write drivers?

            Now, I work for a competitor, so take what I say with a grain (or more) of salt.

            ...That said, Broadcom is one of the most patent/trade-secret paranoid companies I know of. Their shotgun approach to patent lawsuits and insistence on playing their cards as close as possible to their chest is famous in the wireless industry. If they haven't released the specs on their networking devices, it's likely because they are terrified of *something* leaking out.

            On another note, (and this is a beef I have with more than just Broadcom) how can they claim to have released an 802.11n device when 802.11n does not yet exist? [] Yes, a draft version of .11n is out, and the final version *should* be *mostly* compatible with the draft versions... but there will almost certainly be features/protocol in the finalized version of the specification that differ from these different draft versions coming out at the rate of one every few months. It's like buying Vista (or OSX) before the first patches--except here, you can't patch hardware.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              I'm not a wireless expert, but I thought a lot of draft n stuff would be firmware upgradable to the final draft when it comes out. Is that just for certain routers? My laptop has draft n but I've never used it, n routers are too expensive and I'm not sure if DD-WRT supports draft n anyway.
              • Re:Broadcom? (Score:4, Insightful)

                by IorDMUX ( 870522 ) <mark.zimmerman3@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:16PM (#26041565) Homepage
                From what I understand from the techs with which I've spoken, it's one of those issues where *most* draft n devices *should* be firmware upgradable to be *mostly* compatible with finalized n. The problem is that nobody knows exactly what finalized n will be, so it is impossible to make a device that is absolutely hardware and firmware compatible with finalized n. As a result, there are all sorts of draft n products out there which implement some version (3.0, 3.02, 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, or 7.0) of draft n, but in a way that doesn't guarantee compatibility down the line.
                • by RMH101 ( 636144 )
                  let alone the "pre-N" stuff like my Netgear DG834GT, which as far as I can tell is "pre-N" in that it will only talk at those speeds to other Netgear "pre-N" devices, and nothing else.
            • by ConanG ( 699649 )
              How long are people supposed to wait for final 802.11n? If someone bought a draft n laptop 2 1/2 years ago along with a draft n router, they would get at least some of the benefits of n over g for several years. They would probably have a new laptop by now... And finalized n still isn't out!

              It's like buying Vista (or OSX) before the first patches - except here, you don't get the first patches for at least 3 years. And it's better than the alternative.
          • Narrowcom? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:48PM (#26041271) Journal

            "Meanwhile, the manufacturers who play nice with Linux are reaping the benefits of the Linux-running hardware tinkerer's credit cards."

            Obviously you didn't hear the news about the credit crunch. Anyway tinkerers have always been a small part of overall sales for a manufacturer. Not because they don't have the money but because most people buy hardware to solve a problem. Not tinker with endlessly into the night.

            "This isn't rocket science... the more places your device can work, the bigger your market."

            They're devices already WORK. Just because they don't play nice with a small subset of the population doesn't mean they're unsuccessful. They're a chip vendor, not Apple computers selling a finished product to discriminating buyers. The people who work with what they sell work for companies that already can afford NDAs.

          • What's there for Broadcom to gain by making it harder to write drivers?

            Admitting that they stole code/firmware from another vendor?

        • Broadcom is one of the last remaining holdouts

          I wonder how many hardware vendors refuse to open up for driver writers under the guise of "people will copy our IP" because they actually copied someones IP to create their hardware. Maybe "Broadcom is one of the last" because they are still using bits of someone elses work.

    • That's fine because we'll never buy it.

      If Broadcom is too stupid to realize the huge market for Linux-based network appliances, then they deserve to fail.

  • Does the chip come with a free ticket to Henry Nicholas's lair?

  • Package Size (Score:4, Interesting)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:43PM (#26040457) Journal

    Neither the article, nor Broadcom's product page [], nor the product brochure pdf [] mention the package size. Any guesses?

    I suppose it is probably a smaller footprint than three discrete radio chips put together. One usually gets better die-level integration than board level, and you can usually eliminate redundant functions that way.

    Even if it were larger footprint, the fact that you could address and power just one chip rather than three would be a winning advantage on its own.

    • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:03PM (#26040751)

      Why do debates about technology always get reduced to the size of one's package. What difference does the size of one's package make when it comes to pleasing your intended audience? So your car is faster, your phone is smarter, and your house is bigger... my package is smaller so ha!

      (perhaps it's our effort to make everything smaller that has caused the decline in masculinity talked about earlier today)

    • by svnt ( 697929 )

      One usually gets better die-level integration than board level

      Thanks Captain Obvious. Usually? Please provide a single concrete example of better board-level integration.

      the fact that you could address and power just one chip rather than three would be a winning advantage on its own.

      Maybe, but most likely it will only save a couple of chip selects. Also, don't you just love it when your WiFi drops out when your FM radio is damaged?

    • Knowing Broadcom, they probably won't even divulge the package size unless you sign an NDA.

      The trend nowadays seems to keep all the juicy technical information confidential, and not to even sample the component unless you work for a very important company. This eliminates any hobbyist use of the part. Can't have people experimenting with this stuff. Think of the children!


    • by IorDMUX ( 870522 )
      I'm kind of surprised that crammed the power management unit on there--not because of size, but because of the fact that the chip was done in 65 nm tech. In fact, the reason that most PMU's are not on the same chip as RF circuitry is because of the significantly decreased efficiency of power management in a cutting-edge process. Yes, 65 nm is a good place to put your speedy RF circuits, but it tends to require too many inefficient concessions to host a good PMU.

      I wonder about the power efficiency and b
      • Is 65nm still cutting edge though? Intel's been producing stuff at 45nm for a while now.

        From my understanding of the technology, if they need to they can always 'scale up' the PMU section - drawing bigger parts using the finer process isn't difficult. It'd be a bit like displaying 480i images on a 1080p screen.

        Meanwhile you get the power savings, higher speeds, smaller size, and increased yields per platter for the smaller process.

        Might not be the most 'efficient' way to do it, but reducing the chip count

        • by IorDMUX ( 870522 )
          Yeah, I was thinking about that. But even scaling up the PMU transistors, you'd still be stuck with the poor voltage tolerances, leakages, etc... I mean, it's certainly possible, but it looks like Broadcom has decided to off-chip the headphone, USB, battery charging, and similar functions which are normally implemented in the PMU.

          As far as System In Package goes, I'm all for that. You can even use multiple dies (say, a 65 nm RF die, a 65 nm digital die, and a 180 nm PMU die) and get around all these pr
          • Isn't leakage not so much a function of the process as the size of the traces/components and the subsequent closeness? IE if you're imitating a 180nm die(to give some amperage capacity) with 65nm, wouldn't you get 180nm or better leakage, since the traces would be very accurage compared to a true 180nm process?

            Maybe they decided to go for a PMU that ONLY powers the radio stuff. That way you only need a few power traces to the chip, leaving the rest of the stuff for a seperate PMU. Helps keep the board si

  • So is this a software defined radio? With some cleaver filter techniques or is something cooler going on?
  • That would be used for what, exactly?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Well, like numerous similar (non-integrated) devices already on the market, it would probably be used most often to link the host device's portable media player function to a car stereo system. These are low-power transmitters, with a range of no more than a few feet, designed for use on otherwise unoccupied channels. There are no significant interference issues to worry about.

    • What do 802.11 and Bluetooth do?
  • That's my primary deciding factor when I am purchasing wireless interfaces.
    • by sricetx ( 806767 )
      The Arstechnica article doesn't mention Linux support, but given Broadcom's history with Linux and their 802.11g chips, I would say that there will be a long wait for working Linux drivers. I'd consider Broadcom the third worst 802.11x chip maker for Linux. Better than Marvell or TI, but not by much. For now your best best for working wireless devices in Linux are Intel, Atheros and Ralink based devices.
  • by mgkimsal2 ( 200677 ) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:03PM (#26040747) Homepage

    So now we can have *3* devices that don't work in our laptops running Linux, instead of potentially only 1 or 2 not work! Awesome :)

  • Broadcom crams all these functions on to one chip. And still won't release drivers for Linux. ndiswrapper lives on...
  • In a later announcement, excited Broadcom executives and laboratory scientists said during a joint press conference that it is physically impossible to make the new chip compatible with Linux.

    "We really want to be clear about this groundbreaking news," Broadcom chief scientist Daryl Ellison said. "Not only is this a miracle of modern technology, but it will be frustratingly incompatible with Linux installs everywhere. This continues our absolutely firm commitment - to keep Ubuntu off of the laptop you got
  • I thought this could be interesting discussion however it's comment after comment of "waa waa waa no linux drivers, broadcom sucks"

    Yeah, like complaining on slashdot is going to help.... *rolls eyes*

  • What's most exciting here is this chipset coming in a 2.4/5Ghz version. The 2.4 GHz ISM band is a foamy sea of garbage where I live - In my living room my laptop will hear 60+ different 802.11b/g SSID beacons within 15 minutes. I can't get 5 meters of reliable range out of any WAP in 2.4 Ghz, and I've tried several. Since switching to 5GHz-only 802.11n, connectivity is rock steady - but now I have to bridge my assorted 2.4GHz-only kit (Wii, etc.) online.

    5GHz support is my make-or-break feature for wifi-enab

  • I'd actually be half way excited if this entire thing was open source hardware. I could see that getting posted to slashdot. I just don't see why this even should hold my attention after 10 seconds of reading comments on it. It's just about a manufacturers press release of something that's not too exciting any way.

Variables don't; constants aren't.