Choosing a Processor for your Network Device

You are designing a new network device and you need to make a processor choice. There are these power sipping multi core cheap ARM processors that are waving seductively at you. There are also offerings from Should you go with them or go with the tried and trusted x86 processor?

We are assuming that your bandwidth is not high enough that you go with a specialized network processor and your volume is not large enough that you can afford to spin your own chip. You essentially want to leverage a generic processor and put your custom software on it.

The real decider is future scalability of your device. If your requirements are fixed and unlikely to grow in the future, an ARM chip is the right choice. If your requirements are likely to grow in the future x86 may be a better choice.

This is because with a x86 processor you can design with a low end Atom or Geode processor and scale up your design to Intel Multi Core processor as you need to process more data.

With ARM each chip is custom, so to upgrade to a higher power chip, the entire low end software has to be rewritten. Also ARM, as of February 2011, does not have enough high throughput processing chips available.

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