Intel has introduced a single-chip Fast Ethernet controller that could further loosen 3Com's grip on the network interface card (NIC) market.
The company said that its multiplatform 82559 chip is designed for servers, desktops, network PCs and mobile clients. It claims to be 75 per cent smaller and 80 per cent less power hungry than competing chips from 3Com and others, which Intel claims makes it the first viable NIC of this type for handheld PCs.
The move underlines Intel's bid to become a serious player in the lucrative networking arena. Two weeks ago, it announced high performance Gigabit chips and it has spent the past year introducing a succession of NICs and other devices targeted squarely at market leader 3Com.
It has also undergone a series of price cutting programmes to try to undercut its rival. Analysts point out that, while 3Com needs to retain reasonable margins on the networking devices that are its lifeblood, Intel sees them primarily as a way of boosting demand for more powerful PCs, and so can afford to sell some loss leaders.
However, networking is becoming more central to the Intel strategy. Only two weeks ago said it would restructure its business to take advantage of opportunities in the market, following poorer than expected sales of its CPUs during the course of this year.
The new NIC will start shipping early next year, said Intel. It has a 15 millimetre square form factor, a quarter the size of competing semiconductors. That, the company claimed, makes it the first viable chip of its type for handheld and notebook PCs. It is driver compatible with previous Intel parts. Alert on Lan system management facilities have also been integrated into the chip.
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