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Chips bring reliability to MLC-based SSDs

Posted: 12 Oct 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:controllers? processors? sold-state storage drive? SSD?

SandForce Inc. releases solid-state storage (SSD) drive controllers in its push to make the SSDs into a mainstream product.

Manufactured on a 65nm process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., the SF-2000 family of SSD controllers or processors from SandForce offers three parts: the SF-2300 is aimed for industrial applications, while the SF-2500 (SATA) and SF-2600 (SAS) are geared for the enterprise.

The new processors and controllers leverage the technology of the company's 90-nm process chip from TSMC released last year, which the company claimed was the first SSD processor supporting multi-level cell flash (MLC) chips.

SandForce is just one among the companies participating in the emerging SSD merchant controller market, which includes Indilinx, Jmicron, Marvell and several others. Some SSD players make their own controllers, such as Samsung, SanDisk, Toshiba, Intel and Micron. Intel and Marvell are said to have collaborated on an SSD controller, sources said.

However, SandForce is one step ahead in the overall SSD controller market, according to Kent Smith, senior director of product marketing, SandForce.

Forecasting the market
The question remains if, and when, SSDs will take off. SSDs are NAND-based storage devices that claim to be lower power and faster than traditional HDDs. But SSDs have not taken off as fast as previously thought, due to cost and reliability issues.

SSDs are being used in netbooks, notebook PCs and other products. The enterprise is just ''starting now'' to see the adoption of SSDs, Smith said.

SSD prices are only part of the equation. The SSD itself is managed by what some call an intelligent controller. As storage functions become more complex, SSD controllers are becoming critical, he said.

The question is whether OEMs will devise their own controllers or buy a merchant solution. ''Samsung uses a proprietary controller (for their SSDs). So do SanDisk, Toshiba, Intel, and Micron,'' said Jim Handy, an analyst with Objective-Analysis.

Handy added that he expects the move to merchant solutions. ''The cost of developing a controller is so great-and with a very high risk of failure- that I anticipate more and more companies will migrate away from proprietary controllers, especially in client SSDs, which are those aimed at the PC rather than the enterprise,'' Handy explained.

But then there will be no clear winner in the emerging merchant SSD controller space. ''The (merchant) controllers from the outside are good,'' he said. ''I expect to see this industry have a 'preferred controller du jour' with each controller vendor enjoying a day in the sun before another company develops something better and takes the lead away.''

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