3Com Corp Friday announced a strategic partnership with embedded processor maker ARM Holdings Plc that will see the networking giant embed ARM chips in its next generation of network interface cards (NICs). Under the agreement, 3Com said it has worked with ARM to develop an intelligent chip set, based on the 32-bit ARM9 processor, that will be integrated onto its next generation NICs and used to offload the networking tasks from the CPU (central processing unit). The ability to offload networking functionality was developed in conjunction with Microsoft under one part of a wide-ranging agreement announced back in whereby the two said they would collaborate on performance enhancements to 3Com’s NICs that would be supported in Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 Server. Central to that agreement is the ability for NICs to perform hardware acceleration for standard TCP/IP processing and internet protocol (IP) security- or IPSec – encryption. Moving key tasks to the NIC will improve system performance and enable the CPU to spend more time on critical tasks such as applications processing, said Donna Nutile, product manager for 3Com Lan connectivity division. She said 3Com chose ARM chips because they had the best product design in relation to performance and power consumption. It also like the chip’s ease and integration and design reuse properties. The aim is to take tasks that are performed on a host CPU and move those on to a NIC processor, she said. If we take the example of sending an e-mail, Nutile said that typically the CPU would have to handle the networking tasks of receiving the message, analyzing the IP (internet protocol) address, and sending it out to the intended recipient. Now, instead of going to the CPU for processing, the message will go via the NIC. Which essentially means the host CPU can do its own work better, she added. Nutile said 3Com had also worked with VLSI Technology Inc to develop a co-processor, which sits alongside the ARM9 chip, and handles the IP security processing. She added that the actual manufacturing of the chips themselves would be carried out by a number of different ARM partners, although she said it was too early to disclose which ones. Nor would she say when the chips would be available, other to concede it would be some time this year. The new card will be the first in a family of intelligent NICs and future versions of the card will include upgraded versions of the ARM chip too, Nutile said. She added that the goal is to provide more advanced NICs with higher levels of integration, better performance and tighter, denser code.