Intel joins the march toward multi-gigabit cable modems with its Puma 7 DOCSIS 3.1 chip

And it's a leading-edge 14-nm chip, to boot.

Cable modem

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We don't normally get excited about modem chips, but Intel's new Puma 7 is worth noting because of what it portends: more Internet bandwidth.

Puma 7 is Intel's first DOCSIS 3.1 chip, launched Thursday on the eve of a compatibility “plugfest” that represents the next step toward deploying multi-gigabit cable modems based on the standard by early next year.

Another interesting tidbit about the Puma 7 chip: It’s fabricated on the same 14-nm process as Intel’s latest 'Skylake' Core chips. That might not give the Puma 7 any performance edge, but it should allow it to run cool in fanless designs—as cable modems are, anyway.

Inside it is a dual-core Atom chip, Intel said, without specifying which architecture it was built upon. It can, however, run Linux or another OS through a virtualization feature. Other features include support a packet accelerator, support for third-party 4x4 MIMO Wi-Fi and even voice recognition modules, the company said. Finally, the Puma 7 supports what Intel calls HyperScan, which is a way for the chip to do some on-the-fly scanning for malware or potential hackers.

Why this matters: Consumers will probably care most that this is the third platform capable of supporting DOCSIS 3.1, the next evolutionary step in cable modems. First talked about two years ago, DOCSIS 3.1 theoretically allows 10 Gbps down and 1 Gbps upstream, although most now seem to believe that something like 4- or 5-Mbps downstream speeds are more realistic. Still, that’s enough for a simultaneous 4K streams, cable providers say—which means more money for them in higher-end subscription fees.

DOCSIS 3.1 'plugfest' is happening this month 

On Sept. 21, CableLabs—the cable industry organization—will host an interoperability session in Colorado. There, multiple cable providers and hardware suppliers will demonstrate the technology. They will presumably include Comcast and Liberty Global, which voiced its support for a similar DOCSIS 3.1 chip manufactured by Broadcom. ST Micro has also shown off its own system.

Do you really need a multi-gigabit cable connection to your home? Well, American DSL providers hope you don’t. But for those who do, either fiber connections or the new DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems will have those frequent Windows 10 updates downloaded lickety-split.

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