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Even a laptop can run RAM externally thanks to a little-known tech called CXL — but it’s not for sale to mere mortals who only want 1TB of RAM

A start-up has sampled a new device designed to augment servers with additional memory over a CXL 2.0 connection simply by plugging it into a laptop.

FADU, which is known to manufacture SSDs and other storage units, demonstrated its CXL 2.0 switch concept device at Flash Memory Summit (FMS) 2023, according to Serve the Home. This was a field programmable gate array (FPGA) switch, the firm said, and it’s designed to augment IT infrastructure with a monumental amount of memory to support next-gen workloads such as AI.

A similar unit also on display at FMS 2023, the XConn XC50256 CXL 2.0 switch chip has 32 ports that can be split into 256 lanes, supporting up to 2TB/s of bandwidth, according to Electronic Design.

What’s new in CXL 2.0?

Operating over PCIe, CXL 2.0 is an interface between the best CPUs, memory units, accelerators, and other components. It’s the latest standard in the CXL technology. 

The previous edition, CXL 1.1, focused on augmenting systems with memory rather than relying on RAM to be traditionally fitted into the computer. Instead of fitting RAM units, systems would get a memory boost by directly attaching it to the CPU or GPU, or another component with a PCIe slot. 

This is useful for hyperscalers and big data center operators, in particular, because it means you can account for when there’ll be a surge in memory usage during particularly intensive workloads. 

The CXL 2.0 switch, known as Apollo, supports both CXL 2.0 and PCIe Gen 5 standards in a single chip, and it’s designed to reduce latency and power consumption when in use. You also don’t need two separate chips for CXL and PCIe. 

What’s more, processors and accelerators can pool memory in a single space, which negates the limited capacity in data centers caused by tight coupling between CPUs and RAM units. 

More and more devices are emerging on the market to boost data center performance in the generative AI age, with FADU’s concept following the Xconn unit also launched at FMS.

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