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Start-up vows to halve SSD cost

Posted: 04 Nov 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SSD? technology? IC? start-up?

Expect to see a lower price for solid state disc (SSD) technology soon. Chinese start-up Sage Microelectronics is currently shipping an SSD controller IC capable of packing up to 5TB on a single PCB with a standard 2.5-inch form factor.

Sage Micro's SSD controller can address the flash memory using a SATA II interface to drive 10 channels of SSD, MMC or eMMC flash memory cards, with each channel supporting up to 512GB of flash memory. The company aims to solve issues around fast updates in flash speeds and limited bus speeds by taking the problem to a "higher level of abstraction."

"A single SoC controller is driving multiple channels of eMMC cards, and each MMC controller is driving multiple levels of flash die," Sage Micro president Chris Tsu told EE Times. "Our approach has flash memory and multiple flash controllers. The controller chip addresses each of the eMMC chips individually and by doing that they can address much higher density."

SSD controller

Sage developed a propriety multi-core architecture for its SSD controller with a single small RISC CPU core managing the SATA bus and additional cores that handle two memory card channel interfaces each. Sage's S68X family of SSD controllers can support 4, 5, and 10 memory channels for less than $5 per controller.

"A proprietary controller is key in the sense of getting flash to survive in an enterprise setting," Alan Niebel, president of WebFeet Research, told EE Times. "The overall quality may not stand up against time; it's tough to know how good proprietary quality is."

SSD controller

(Source: Sage Micro)

Sage Micro did not note the processing power behind its controllers, although speed may be the key to differentiating the company among its competitors. Jim Handy, principal analyst with Objective Analysis, said the parallel architecture in Sage's controller is reminiscent of supercomputers and may, in fact, be really fast.

"They've got a bunch of controllers controlling flash chips separately, that ought to give them a bit more bandwidth. You would think that performance would scale with the number of eMMC cards," Handy told us. "It seems if their minimum system is four eMMCs and a controller, that's already one more processor than what Samsung has, and it should lend to higher performance."

Tsu added that by providing a proprietary controller, Sage Micro bypasses the problem of working with flash suppliers that don't publish internal details of controllers that can run multiple generations of flash. Those flash suppliers also have a higher price point for multiple chips than is truly necessary.

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