computers flash memory SSD wintel

AnandTech | Testing SATA Express And Why We Need Faster SSDs

PCIe- und PCI-Slots im Vergleich
PCIe- und PCI-Slots im Vergleich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even a PCIe 2.0 x2 link offers about a 40% increase in maximum throughput over SATA 6Gbps. Like most interfaces, PCIe 2.0 isn’t 100% efficient and based on our internal tests the bandwidth efficiency is around 78-79%, so in the real world you should expect to get ~780MB/s out of a PCIe 2.0 x2 link, but remember that SATA 6Gbps isn’t 100% either (around 515MB/s is the typical maximum we see). The currently available PCIe SSD controller designs are all 2.0 based but we should start to see some PCIe 3.0 drives next year. We don’t have efficiency numbers for 3.0 yet but I would expect to see nearly twice the bandwidth of 2.0, making +1GB/s a norm.

via AnandTech | Testing SATA Express And Why We Need Faster SSDs.

As I’ve watched the SSD market slowly grow and bloom it does seem as though the rate at which big changes occur has slowed. The SATA controllers on the drives themselves were kicked up a notch as the transition from SATA-1 to SATA-2 gave us consistent 500MB/sec read/write speeds. And that has stayed stable forever due to the inherent limit of SATA-2. I had been watching very closely developments in PCIe based SSDs but the prices were  always artificially high due to the market for these devices being data centers. Proof positive of this is Fusion-io catered mostly to two big purchasers of their product, Facebook and Apple. Subsequently their prices always put them in the enterprise level $15K for one PCIe slot device (at any size/density of storage).

Apple has come to the rescue in every sense of the word by adopting PCIe SSDs as the base level SSD for their portable computers. Starting last Summer 2013 Apple started released Mac Book Pro laptops with PCIe SSDs and then eventually started designing them into the Mac Book Air as well. The last step was to fully adopt it in their desktop Mac Pro (which has been slow to hit the market). The performance of the PCIe SSD in the Mac Pro as compared to any other shipping computer is the highest for a consumer level product. As the Mac gains some market share for all computers being shipped, Mac buyers are gaining more speed from their SSD as well.

So what further plans are in the works for the REST of the industry? Well SATA-express seems to be a way forward for the 90% of the market still buying Windows PCs. And it’s a new standard being put forth by the SATA-IO standards committee. With any luck the enthusiast market motherboard manufacturers will adopt it as fast as it passes the committees, and we’ll see an Anandtech or Tom’s Hardware guide review doing a real benchmark and analysis of how well it matches up against the previous generation hardware.

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computers flash memory SSD technology

Anandtech – New LSI series of Flash Memory Controllers

English: FPU LSI R3010
English: FPU LSI R3010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May the SandForce be with you

Nice writeup from Anandtech regarding the press release from LSI about it’s new 3rd generation flash memory controllers. The 3000 series takes over from the 2200 and 1200 series that preceded it as the era of SSDs was just beginning to dawn (remember those heady days of 32GB SSD drives?). Like the Frontier days of old, things are starting to consolidate and find an equilibrium of price vs. performance. Commidity pricing rules the day, but SSDs much less PCIe Flash interfaces are just creeping into the high end of the market of Apple laptops and soon Apple desktops (apologies to the iMac which has already adopted the PCIe interface for its flash drives, but the Mac Pro is still waiting in the wings).

Things continue to improve in terms of future-proofing the interfaces. From SATA to PCIe there was little done to force a migration to one or the other interface as each market had its own peculiarities. SSDs were for the price conscious consumer level market, and PCIe was pretty much only for the enterprise. You had pick and choose your controller very wisely in order to maximize the return on a new device design. LSI did some heavy lifting according to Anandtech by refactoring, redesigning the whole controller thus allowing a manufacturer to buy one controller and use it either way as a SATA SSD controller or as an PCIe flash memory controller. Speeds of each interface indicate this is true at the theoretical throughput end of the scale. LSI reports the PCIe throughput it not too far off the theoretical MAX, (~1.45GB/sec range). Not bad for a chip that can also be use as an SSD controller at 500MB/sec throughput as well. This is going to make designers and hopefully consumers happy as well.

On a more technical note as written about in earlier articles mentioning the great Peak Flash memory density/price limit, LSI is fully aware of the memory architectures and the faillure rates, error rates they accumulate over time.

data center flash memory SSD

Fusion-io demos billion IOPS server config • The Register

Fusion-io has achieved a billion IOPS from eight servers in a demonstration at the DEMO Enterprise event

Image representing Fusion-io as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

in San Francisco.

The cracking performance needed just eight HP DL370 G6 servers, running Linux on two, 6-core Intel processors, 96GB RAM. Each server was fitted with eight 2.4TB ioDrive2 Duo PCIE flash drives; thats 19.2TB of flash per server and 153.6TB of flash in total.

via Fusion-io demos billion IOPS server config • The Register.

This is in a word, no mean feat. 1 Million IOPS was the target to beat not just 2 years ago for anyone attempting to buy/build their own Flash based storage from the top Enterprise Level manufacturers. So the bar has risen no less than 3 orders of magnitude higher than the top end from 1 year ago. Add to that the magic sauce of bypassing the host OS and using the Flash memory as just an enhanced large memory.

This makes me wonder, how exactly does the Flash memory get used alongside the RAM memory pool?

How do the Applications use the Flash memory, and how does the OS use it?

Those are the details I think that no one else other than Fusion-io can provide as a value-add beyond the PCIe based flash memory modules itself. Instead of hardware being the main differentiator (drive controllers, Single Level Cells, etc.) Fusion-io is using a different path through the OS to the Flash memory. The File I/O system traditionally tied to hard disk storage and more generically ‘storage’ of some kind is being sacrificed. But I understand the logic, design and engineering of bypassing the overhead of the ‘storage’ route and redefining the Flash memory as another form of system memory.

Maybe the old style Von Neumann architecture or Harvard architecture computers are too old school for this new paradigm of a larger tiered memory pool with DRAM and Flash memory modules consisting of the most important parts of the computer. Maybe disk storage could be used as a mere backup of the data held in the Flash memory? Hard to say, and I think Fusion-io is right to hold this info close as they might be able to make this a more general case solution to the I/O problems facing some customers (not just Wall Street type high frequency traders).

flash memory SSD technology

Intels Plans for New SSDs in 2012 Detailed

Logo of Intel, Jul 1968 - Dec 2005
Image via Wikipedia

Through first quarter of 2012, Intel will be releasing new SSDs: Intel SSD 520 “Cherryville” Series replacement for the Intel SSD 510 Series, Intel SSD 710 “Lyndonville” Series Enterprise HET-MLC SSD replacement for X25-E series, and Intel SSD 720 “Ramsdale” Series PCIe based SSD. In addition, you will be seeing two additional mSATA SSDs codenamed “Hawley Creek” by the end of the fourth quarter 2011.

via Intels Plans for New SSDs in 2012 Detailed.

That’s right folks Intel is jumping on the high performance PCIe SSD bandwagon with the Intel SSD 720 in the first quarter of 2012. Don’t know what price they will charge but given quotes and pre-releases of specs it’s going to compete against products from competitors like RamSan, Fusion-io and the top level OCZ PCIe prouct the R4. My best guess is based on pricing for those products it will be in the roughly $10,000+ category with an 8x PCI interface and fully complement of Flash memory (usually over 1TB on this class of PCIe card).

Knowing that Intel’s got some big engineering resources behind their SSD designs, I’m curious to see how close they can come to the performance statistics quoted in this table here:,0101-296920-0-2-3-1-jpg-.html

2200 Mbytes/sec of Read throughput and 1100Mbytes/sec of Write throughput. Those are some pretty heft numbers compared to currently shipping products in the upper pro-summer and lower Enterprise Class price category. Hopefully Anandtech will get a shipping or even pre-release version before the end of the year and give it a good torture test. Following Anand Lai Shimpi on his Twitter feed, I’m seeing all kinds of tweets about how a lot of pre-release products from manufacturers off SSDs and PCIe SSDs fail during the benchmarks. Doesn’t bode well for the Quality Control depts. at the manufacturers assembling and testing these products. Especially considering the price premium of these items, it would be much more reassuring if the testing was more rigorous and conservative.

computers data center flash memory SSD technology

AnandTech – OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 1.6TB PCIe SSD Review

In the enterprise segment where 1U and 2U servers are common, PCI Express SSDs are very attractive. You may not always have a ton of 2.5″ drive bays but theres usually at least one high-bandwidth PCIe slot unused. The RevoDrive family of PCIe SSDs were targeted at the high-end desktop or workstation market, but for an enterprise-specific solution OCZ has its Z-Drive line.

via AnandTech – OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 1.6TB PCIe SSD Review.

Anandtech is breaking new ground covering some Enterprise level segments of the Solid State Disk industry. While I doubt he’ll be doing ratings of Violin and Texas Memory Systems gear very soon, the OCZ low end Enterprise PCIe cards is still beginning to approach that target. We’re talking $10,000 USD and up for anyone who wants to participate. Which puts it in the middle to high end of Fusion-io and barely touches the lower end of Violin and TMS not to mention Virident. Given that, it is still wild to see what kind of architecture and performance optimization one gets for the money they pay. SandForce rules the day at OCZ for anything requiring the top speeds for write performance. It’s also interesting to find out about the SandForce 25xx series use of super-capacitors to hold enough reserve power to flush the write caches on a power outage. It’s expensive, but moves the product up a few notches in the Enterprise level reliability scale.

computers data center flash memory technology

CES 2011: Corsair Performance Series 3 SSD Benchmarks – AnandTech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News

Image representing SandForce as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

The next wave of high end consumer SSDs will begin shipping this month, and I believe Corsair may be the first out the gate. Micron will follow shortly with its C400 and then we’ll likely see a third generation offering from Intel before eventually getting final hardware based on SandForce’s SF-2000 controllers in May.

via CES 2011: Corsair Performance Series 3 SSD Benchmarks – AnandTech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News.

This just in from Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, via Anandtech. SandForce SF-2000 scheduled to drop in May of this year. Get ready as you will see a huge upsurge in releases of new SSD products attempting to best one another in the sustained Read/Write category. And I’m not talking just SSDs but PCIe based cards with SSD RAIDs embedded on them communicating through a 2 Lane 8X PCI Express interface. I’m going to take a wild guess and say you will see products fitting this description easily hitting 700 to 900 MB/s sustained Read and Write. Prices will be on the top end of the scale as even the current shipping products all fall in to the $1200 to $1500 range. Expect the top end to be LSI based products for $15,000 or third party OEM manufacturers who might be willing to sell a fully configured 1TByte card for maybe ~$2,000. After the SF-2000 is released, I don’t know how long it will take for designers to prototype and release to manufacturing any new designs incorporating this top of the line SSD flash memory controller. It’s possible as the top end continues to increase in performance current shipping product might start to fall in price to clear out the older, lower performance designs.

data center flash memory technology

A Quick Look at OCZ’s RevoDrive x2 – AnandTech


Serial Attached SCSI drive connector
SATA hard drive Interface - Image via Wikipedia


What OCZ (and other companies) ultimately need to do is introduce a SSD controller with a native PCI Express interface (or something else other than SATA). SandForce’s recent SF-2000 announcement showed us that SATA is an interface that simply can’t keep up with SSD controller evolution. At peak read/write speed of 500MB/s, even 6Gbps SATA is barely enough. It took us years to get to 6Gbps SATA, yet in about one year SandForce will have gone from maxing out 3Gbps SATA on sequential reads to nearing the limits of 6Gbps SATA.

via A Quick Look at OCZ’s RevoDrive x2: IBIS Performance without HSDL – AnandTech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News.

It doesn’t appear the RevoDrive X2 is all that much better than four equivalent sized SSD drives in a four drive RAID Level 0 array. But hope springs eternal, and the author sums up where manufacturers should go with their future product announcements. I think everyone agrees SATA is the last thing we need to get full speed out of the Flash based SSDs, we need SandForce controllers with native PCIe interfaces and then maybe we will get our full money’s worth out of the SSDs we will buy in the near future. As an enterprise data center architect, I would seriously be following these product announcements and architecture requirements. Shrewdly choosing your data center storage architecture (what mix of spinning disks and SSD do you really need) will be a competitive advantage for data mining, Online Transaction Processing, and Cloud based software applications.

Until this article came out yesterday I was unaware that OCZ had an SSD product with a SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) interface. That drive is called the IBIS and OCZ describes the connector as HSDL (High Speed Data Link-an OCZ created term). Benchmarks of that device have shown it to be faster than it’s RevoDrive counterpart which uses an old style native hard drive interface (SATA). Anandtech is lobbying to dump SATA altogether even now that the most recent SATA version supports higher throughput (so called SATA 6). The legacy support built into the SATA interface is absolutely unnecessary given the speed of today’s flash memory chips and the SSDs they are designed into. SandForce has further complicated the issue by showing that their drive controllers can vastly out pace even SATA 6 drive interfaces. So as I have concluded in previous blog entries PCIe is the next logical and highest speed option after you look at all the spinning hard drive interfaces currently on the market. The next thing that needs to be addressed is the cost of designing and building these PCIe based SSD drives in the coming year. $1200 seems to be the going price for anything in the 512GB range with roughly 700MB/second data throughput. Once the price goes below the $1,0000 mark, I think the number of buyers will go up (albeit still niche consumers like PC Gamers). In the end we can only benefit by manufacturers dumping SATA for the PCIe interface and the Anandtech quote at the top of the blog, really reinforces what I’ve been observing so far this year.

computers flash memory technology

OCZ Reveals New Bootable PCIe SSD (quick comparison to Angelbird PCIe)

PCI Express slots (from top to bottom: x4, x16...
Image via Wikipedia

Box packaging for the RevoDrive
First version of the RevoDrive PCIe

Building upon the original 1st-generation RevoDrive, the new version boasts speeds up to 740 MB/s and up to 120,000 IOPS, almost three times the throughput of other high-end SATA-based solutions.

via OCZ Reveals New Bootable PCIe SSD.

One cannot make this stuff up, two weeks ago Angelbird announced its bootable PCI Express SSD. Late yesterday OCZ one of the biggest 3rd party after market makers of SSDs announces a new PCI Express SSD which is also bootable. Big difference between the Angelbird product and OCZ’s RevoDrive is the throughput on the top end. This means if you purchase the most expensive fully equipped card from either manufacturer you will get 900+MBytes/sec. on the Angelfire versus 700+MBytes/sec. on the Revodrive from OCZ. Other differences include the ‘native’ support of the OCZ on the Host OS. I think this means that they aren’t using the ‘virtual OS’ on the embedded chips to boot so much as having the PCIe drive electronics make everything appear to be a real native boot drive. Angelbird uses an embedded OS to virtualize and abstract the hardware so that you get to boot any OS you want and run it off the flash memory onboard.

The other difference I can see from reading the announcements is that only the largest configured size on the Angelbird that gets you the fastest throughput. As drives are added the RAID array is striped over more available flash drives. The OCZ product also does a RAID array to increase speed, however they hit the maximum throughput at an intermediate size (~250GByte configuration) and at the maximum size too. So if you want an ‘normal’ to ‘average’ size storage but better throughput you don’t have to buy the maxed out most expensive version of the OCZ RevoDrive to get there. Which means this could be a more manageable price for the gaming market or for the PC fanboys who want faster boot times. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not recommending buying an expensive 250GByte RevoDrive if a similarly sized SATA SSD costs a good deal less. No far from it, the speed difference may not be worth the price you pay. But, the RevoDrive could be upgraded over time and keep your speeds at the max 700+MBytes/sec. you get with its high throughput intermediate configuration. Right now, I don’t have any prices to compare for either the Angelbird or OCZ Revodrive products. I can tell you however that the Fusion-io low end desktop product is in the $700-$800 range and doesn’t come with upgradeable storage, you get a few sizes to choose from, and that’s it. If either of the two products ship at a price significantly less than the Fusion-io product everyone will flock to them I’m sure.

Two other significant features touted by both product announcements are the SandForce SF-1200 flash controller. Right now that controller is the de facto standard high throughput part everyone is using for the SATA SSD products. There’s even an intermediate part on the market called the SF-1500 (their top end offering). So it’s de rigeur to include the SandForce SF-1200t in any product you hope to sell to a wide audience (especially hardware fanboys). However, let me caution you that in the flurry of product announcements and always keeping an eye on preventing buyers remorse, SandForce did announce very recently a new drive controller they have labelled the SF-2000 series. This part may or may not be targeted for the consumer desktop market, but depending on how well it performs once it starts shipping you may want to wait and see if the revision of this crop of newly announced PCIe cards adopts the SandForce controller chip to gain the extra throughput it is touting. The new controller is rated at 740MBytes/sec. all by itself, with 4 SSDs attached to it on a PCIe card, theoretically four times 740 equals 2,096 and that is a substantially large quantity of data coming through th PCI Express data bus. Luckily for most of us the PCI Express interface on a 4X (four lane) data bus has a while to go before it gets saturated by all this disk throughput. The question is how long will it take to overwhelm the a four lane PCI Express connector? I hope to see the day this happens.