Wireless gearmaker Atheros Communications yesterday announced the launch of a cost-optimized, draft 802.11n chipset and the company’s first family of network processors.

Earlier this year, Atheros announced a 3x3 chipset that was compliant with the 802.11n draft standard. The 2x2 chipset announced yesterday lacks the range of the 3x3 version, but savings in silicon and other bill of materials provides will let customers build 802.11n devices that are significantly less expensive than current products, said Harpreet Chohan, senior manager of products marketing for Atheros.

“With our 2x2, we’re trying to enable sub-$100 retail [devices],” Chohan said. “And this is all being supported by an underlying reference design that our customers can pick up … to make to market much faster.”

While the 2x2 chipset typically would use the processing power of a client device when used in such applications, standalone devices can use the chipset in conjunction with Atheros’ new AR71000 network processors, Chohan said. The AR7100B supports clock speeds of 300 MHz with dual 10/100 Ethernet ports, while the AR7100P is a 400 MHz processor with dual 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports.

Chohan said the AR7100 family marks Atheros’ entrance into the network processor market.

“Until now, we have been using a third-party, general purpose CPU,” he said.