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Vitesse chips target low-cost serial ATA drive arrays

Posted: 23 Jan 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:vitesse semiconductor? sata host controller? serial ata controller? vsc420? vsc425?

Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. has rolled out three chips with which it hopes to establish itself as a leading supplier of serial ATA silicon. Vitesse will vie with a handful of startups and entrenched chipmakers trying to eke out new turf for serial ATA drive arrays at the low end of today's SCSI drive market.

"Vitesse is committed to being a one-stop shop for silicon used in serial ATA servers, switches, and arrays. We are basically replicating a product position we already have in Fibre Channel," said Sam Barnett, the head of marketing for Vitesse's datacom products group.

Vitesse is one of a growing number of companies developing chips for the new serial ATA standard as a cheaper alternative to SCSI and Fibre Channel. The company licensed its serial ATA link and transport layer technology from startup APT Technologies Inc., which helped draft the serial ATA spec. Other companies developing serial ATA chips include LSI Logic Corp., Marvell Semiconductor, and startup Sierra Logic Inc.

Vitesse announced its first serial ATA products just days after ServerWorks Corp. announced sample availability of four-port and eight-port serial ATA controllers, and of a dual-channel multiplexer for serial or parallel ATA that sports fail over and load balancing features. The ServerWorks four-port controller costs $25, the eight-port device costs $40, and the multiplexer costs $11, each in 10,000-piece quantities.

Serial ATA arrays will not only take a chunk out of the low-end market for SCSI disk arrays, but will provide a faster, low-cost alternative to off-line tape archive storage, said Steve Kenniston of market watcher Enterprise Storage Group. "There will be a fairly decent adoption of serial ATA chips," he said.

Initial round

Vitesse's initial serial ATA chips include a host bus controller for servers and arrays and two versions of a management controller for those systems.

The VSC7174 quad serial ATA host bus controller sports four 1.5Gbps channels. It supports the command queuing feature of the serial ATA II Phase 1 specification, which allows a system to simultaneously send multiple commands to a drive or a single command to multiple drives to reduce latency.

The chip can also support output swings at 1V to 1.2V so that serial ATA signals can be used across a backplane. The controller supports a variety of 64-bit PCI hosts interfaces, including 33MHz and 66MHz PCI and 66MHz, 100MHz, and 133MHz PCI-X.

The part costs $15 each in quantities of 10,000 and is sampling now, with production due in Q2.

Using the serial ATA controller, OEMs could design a 4TB disk array based on Maxtor Corp.'s new 250MB Maxtor serial ATA drives that would cost about $6,000, Vitesse said. A similar SCSI array would cost about $18,000, Barnett estimated.

"All of the top five storage OEMs are looking into this now," he added.

The VSC420 and VSC425 serial ATA enclosure management controllers can be used to monitor drive conditions as well as fan status and system temperature. The 420 will sell for $9.60 each in 10,000 units and the 425 for $12 each in the same quantities with the same availability as the host bus controller.

Vitesse will produce a multiport version of the host bus controller but has not yet committed to supporting the PCI Express, HyperTransport, or RapidIO interface. "That decision is looming and it's entirely possible we will support multiple interfaces selectable by the OEM," Barnett said.

The company is also expected to roll out serial ATA fanout devices and switches, though Barnett would not comment on the timing of those products.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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