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Introduction

No, CES 2009 wasn't really that empty and I didn't see even one tumbleweed. But I'll remember this one for the shortest cab and bus lines I have ever experienced at the show and an almost laid-back feel due to the lower attendance. But I'll leave that navel-gazing to the pundits and instead provide a brain dump of my key take-aways.

First Atom-powered NASes

QNAP's CES release was short on details of its new "Intel-based iSCSI NAS Series". But my meeting with them revealed that their new six and four-bay TS-639 Pro and TS-439 Pro are both using Intel's Atom.

Atom-powered QNAP TS-439 Pro

Atom-powered QNAP TS-439 Pro

MSRP for the 439 Pro is tentatively set at $799, which puts it $300 below its six-bay cousin the 639 Pro. And if an eight-bay solution is more what you need, the Core 2 Duo based TS-809 Pro will also be out soon. But it will set you back $1699.

QNAP will be sending review units as soon as they are ready. So if you've been wondering how commercial Atom-powered NASes will perform, you'll know soon!

MoCA Finally Hitting Retail

The long road to being able to walk into Best Buy or click over to NewEgg and pick up a pair of MoCA adapters seems to be nearing an end. As previously reported, NETGEAR is going to ship its MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit to re- and e-tailer shelves shortly and I'm supposed to receive a pair next week. So I'll finally be able to see if MoCA is a viable alternative for HD streaming for those of you haven't had any luck with draft 11n or HomePlug AV.

MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit

MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit

The twist in the story is that D-Link might be backing away from its CES announcement that its DXN-221 MoCA kit will be available this quarter. The D-Link rep that I met with said that the company would not be putting the kit on shelves and keeping it as a service-provider offering only. Maybe after the CES smoke clears this will change (and if it does, I'll let you know). But for now, it looks like NETGEAR is going solo with retail MoCA.

Help On The Way for Draft 11n Wireless Streaming?

In meetings with Atheros, Broadcom, Marvell and Ralink, I delivered the message that draft 11n is failing to make the grade for reliable HD streaming. The culprits are high throughput variation and significantly reduced range in 5 GHz and I asked each company what their thoughts were. (I also gave the same assessment to the NETGEAR, D-Link and Cisco folks who I met with, but the conversations were generally shorter and less informative.)

In general, the chipmakers agreed with the assessment (or at least I think they did), but the get-well plans were varied. In some cases, it seemed like the wireless router makers need to be convinced of the need to move away from the throw-bandwidth-at-it and go for the highest throughput number approaches that they seem to favor.

But Broadcom seemed to offer the most concrete solutions. For shorter 5 GHz range, they are moving to put a 5 GHz power amp on-chip to boost transmit power by about 6 dB. This won't raise it to maximum allowable levels, but 6 dB should make a noticeable improvement and, hey, we'll take any improvement right now!

Broadcom also has spent the past year tweaking the Forward Error Correction technology they demonstrated last year so that it requires only a minor boost in throughput to provide significant protection against dropped packets. The demo I saw injected a 2% packet loss that caused minor, but constant pixelation in a streamed 10 Mbps MPEG2 1080p stream. But when the error correction was kicked in, the picture cleaned up within seconds.

Details were a little fuzzy on when the FEC technology would appear in Broadcom-based draft 11n routers. From what I understand, all of Broadcom's existing draft 11n BB/MACs can be upgraded with the feature. But, of course, it's up to the router makers to make it so. So we'll have to keep an eye on firmware upgrades for Linksys / Cisco draft 11n routers.

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