IDF 2015: Intel Launches Optane Technology - XPoint for Everyone!

Subject: Storage | August 18, 2015 - 02:20 PM |
Tagged: XPoint, ssd, Optane, Intel, IDF 2015

Just three weeks ago, we reported 3D XPoint Technology. This was a 2-layer stack of non-volatile memory that couples the data retention of NAND flash memory with speeds much closer to that of DRAM.


The big question at that time was less about the tech and more about its practical applications. Ryan is out covering IDF, and he just saw the first publically announced application by Intel:


Intel Optane Technology is Intel’s term for how they are going to incorporate XPoint memory dies into the devices we use today. They intend to start with datacenter storage and work their way down to ultrabooks, which means that XPoint must come in at a cost/GB closer to NAND than to DRAM. For those asking specific performance figures after our earlier announcement, here are a couple of performance comparisons between an SSD DC P3700 and a prototype SSD using XPoint:


At QD=8, the XPoint equipped prototype comes in at 5x the performance of the P3700. The bigger question is how about QD=1 performance, as XPoint is supposed to be far less latent than NAND?


Yes, you read that correctly, that’s 76k IOPS at QD=1. That means only issuing the SSD one command at a time, waiting for a reply, and only then issuing another command. Basically the worst case for SSD performance, as no commands are stacked up in the queue to enable parallelism to kick in and increase overall throughput. For comparison, SATA SSDs have a hard time maintaining that figure at their maximum queue depths of 32.

Exciting to see a follow-on announcement so quickly after the announcement of the technology itself, but remember that Intel did state ‘2016’ for these to start appearing, so don’t put off that SSD 750 purchase just yet.

More to follow as we continue our coverage of IDF 2015!

Western Digital Launches 5TB and 6TB Black and Red Pro

Subject: Storage | August 18, 2015 - 08:00 AM |
Tagged: western digital, wdc, WD, Red Pro, hdd, Black, 6tb

It's been a while since Western Digital updated their Black series of HDDs, with their 4TB release taking place over two years ago. I'm happy to say that for those looking for a massive HDD suited for holding that enormous games folder too large to fit on your SSD, your wait is finally over, as today WD has updated the Black line to include 5TB and 6TB capacity units.


The Black series introduced that nifty dual stage actuator technology nearly five years ago, and has added a few more bells and whistles along the way. These new models include a 128MB cache and run on dual-core processors.

Along with that news also comes an update to their Red Pro series, which was also limited to 4TB in capacity when they launched last year. Red Pro models will now also include 5TB and 6TB units, so those wanting the most performance and lowest response time from their NAS can now also enjoy that performance at a 50% gain in capacity.


The new 6TB Red Pro also includes a 128MB cache and can peak at 214MB/sec (at the start of the disk). Also included in these is WD's NASware 3.0 firmware, which is specifically tuned to enable packs of these operating in packs while minimizing the effects of vibration on performance.


The 5TB Black comes in at $264 while the 6TB comes in at $294. The Red Pro's come at only an additional $5 over the Black, respectively (small price to pay for better compatibility with larger arrays). Both the Red Pro and Black carry a 5-year warranty.

Press blasts for the 5/6TB Black and Red Pro appear after the break.

FMS 2015: Silicon Motion SM2260 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe Controller Spotted

Subject: Storage | August 14, 2015 - 04:44 PM |
Tagged: FMS 2015, silicon motion, SM2260, SM2256, SM2246EN, pcie, NVMe, ssd, controller

We’ve reviewed a few Silicon Motion SSDs in the past (Angelbird | Corsair Force LX | Crucial BX100), and I have always been impressed with their advances in SSD controller technology. Their SM2246EN SATA controller was launched two years ago, and strived to be a very efficient and performant unit. Based on our reviews that turned out to be true, and this allowed Silicon Motion to slide into the void left by SandForce, who repeatedly delayed their newer developments and forced the many companies who were sourcing their parts to look elsewhere.


The many SSDs using Silicon Motion’s SM2246EN controller.

Silicon motion pushed this further with their SM2256, which we first saw at the 2014 Flash Memory Summit and later saw driving SLC/TLC hybrid flash at this past Consumer Electronics Show. While the SM2256 makes its way into more and more products, I was glad to see an important addition to their lineup at this year’s FMS:


Finally we see Silicon Motion doing a PCIe controller! This is the SM2260, seen here in the M.2 form factor…


…and here in SATA Express. While the latter will likely not be as popular due to the more limited PCIe lanes present in SATA Express, I’m sure we will see this controller appearing in many PCIe devices very soon. The stated performance figures may be a bit shy of currently comparing SSDs like the Intel SSD 750 and Samsung SM951, but with the recent introduction of Z170 motherboards and RST PCIe RAID, it is now easier to RAID a smaller capacity pair of these devices, increasing the performance of slower units. Further, the point of the SM2260 is likely to get a low cost NVMe PCIe SSD controller into the hands of SSD makers, which can only mean good things for those looking to make the move away from SATA.

I’ve included Silicon Motion’s FMS press blast after the break.

FMS 2015: Novachips HLNAND Pushes SSDs Beyond 16TB Per SSD Controller

Subject: Storage | August 13, 2015 - 08:12 PM |
Tagged: FMS 2015, ssd, sata, SAS, pcie, NVMe, novachips, HLNAND, flash

It turns out Samsung wasn’t the only company to have 16TB SSDs at Flash Memory Summit after all:


Now that I’ve got your attention, Novachips is an SSD company that does not make their own flash, but I would argue that they make other peoples flash better. They source flash memory wafers and dies from other companies, but they package it in a unique way that enables very large numbers of flash dies per controller. This is handy for situations where very large capacities per controller are needed (either physically or logically).

slide 8.png

Normally there is a limit to the number of dies that can communicate on a common bus (similar limits apply to DRAM, which is why some motherboards are picky with large numbers of DIMMs installed). Novachips gets around this with an innovative flash packaging method:


The 16-die stack in the above picture would normally just connect out the bottom of the package, but in the Novachips parts, those connections are made to a microcontroller die also present within the package. This part acts as an interface back to the main SSD controller, but it does so over a ring bus architecture.

slide 9.png

To clarify, those 800 or 1600 MB/sec figures on the above slide are the transfer rates *per ring*, and Novachips controller is 8-channels, meaning the flash side of the controller can handle massive throughputs. Ring busses are not limited by the same fanout requirements seen on parallel addressed devices, which means there is no practical limit to the number of flash packages connected on a single controller channel, making for some outrageous amounts of flash hanging off of a single controller:


That’s a lot of flash on a single card (and yes, the other side was full as well).

The above pic was taken at last years Flash Memory Summit. Novachips has been making steady progress on controller development as well. Here is a prototype controller seen last year running on an FPGA test system:


…and this year that same controller had been migrated to an ASIC:


It’s interesting to see the physical differences between those two parts. Note that both new and old platforms were connected to the same banks of flash. The newer photo showed two complete systems – one on ONFi flash (IMFT Intel / Micron) and the other on Toggle Mode (Toshiba). This was done to demonstrate that Novachips HLNAND hardware is compatible with both types.


Novachips also had NVMe PCIe hardware up and running at the show.

Novachips was also showing some impressive packaging in their SATA devices:


At the right was a 2TB SATA SSD, and at the left was a 4TB unit. Both were in the 7mm form factor. 4TB is the largest capacity SSD I have seen in that form factor to date.


Novachips also makes an 8TB variant, though the added PCB requires 15mm packaging.

All of this means that it is not always necessary to have huge capacity per die to achieve a huge capacity SSD. Imagine very high capacity flash arrays using this technology, connecting a single controller to a bank of Toshiba’s new QLC archival flash or Samsung’s new 256Gbit VNAND. Then imagine a server full of those PCIe devices. Things certainly seem to be getting big in the world of flash memory, that’s for sure.

Even more Flash Memory Summit posts to follow!

Source: Novachips

FMS 2015: Toshiba Announces QLC (4-bit MLC) 3D Archival Flash

Subject: Storage | August 11, 2015 - 08:40 PM |
Tagged: toshiba, ssd, FMS 2015, flash, BiCS, Archive, Archival, 3d

We occasionally throw around the '3-bit MLC' (Multi Level Cell) term in place of 'TLC' (Triple Level Cell) when talking about flash memory. Those terms are interchangeable, but some feel it is misleading as the former still contains the term MLC. At Toshiba's keynote today, they showed us why the former is important:


Photo source: Sam Chen of Custom PC Review

That's right - QLC (Quadruple Level Cell), which is also 4-bit MLC, has been mentioned by Toshiba. As you can see at the right of that slide, storing four bits in a single flash cell means there are *sixteen* very narrow voltage ranges representing the stored data. That is a very hard thing to do, and even harder to do with high performance (programming/writing would take a relatively long time as the circuitry nudges the voltages to such a precise level). This is why Toshiba pitched this flash as a low cost solution for archival purposes. You wouldn't want to use this type of flash in a device that was written constantly, since the channel materials wearing out would have a much more significant effect on endurance. Suiting this flash to be written only a few times would keep it in a 'newer' state that would be effective for solid state data archiving.

The 1x / 0.5x / 6x figures appearing in the slide are meant to compare relative endurance to Toshiba's own planar 15nm flash. The figures suggest that Toshiba's BiCS 3D flash is efficient enough to go to QLC (4-bit) levels and still maintain a higher margin than their current MLC (2-bit) 2D flash.

More to follow as we continue our Flash Memory Summit coverage!

FMS 2015: Samsung's New 256Gbit VNAND Enables 16TB PM1633a Datacenter SSD

Subject: Storage | August 11, 2015 - 04:59 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, vnand, 48-layer, tlc, 16TB, FMS 2015

I get these emails and comments all the time - "I want a larger capacity SSD". Ok, here ya go:


Samsung's earlier 48-layer VNAND announcement was exciting, but we already knew about it going into the keynote. What we did not know was that Samsung was going to blew the doors off of their keynote when they dropped this little gem. It's not just the largest capacity SSD, as this thing is more dense than any HDD's available today as well. That's 16TB of 48-layer TLC VNAND packed into a 2.5" form factor SAS-connected SSD. what do you do once you have such a high density device? Well, you figure out how many you can cram into a 2U chassis of course!


Yup, that's 48 of those new SSDs, making for a capacity of 768TB in a 2U chassis. Samsung described this as a "JBOF" (Just a Bunch Of Flash), so processing the 2 million IOPS this array is capable of will have to be left to the connected system.

No word on pricing, but I'd think we are in 'mortgage the house' territory if you want to put this into your home PC.

There is more to follow from Flash Memory Summit, but for now I've got to run to another meeting!

FMS 2015: *UPDATED* Samsung Adds Layers to its 3D VNAND, Doubling Capacity While Reducing Power Consumption

Subject: Storage | August 11, 2015 - 04:39 PM |
Tagged: vnand, tlc, Samsung, FMS 2015, 48-layer, 32GB, 32-layer, 256Gbit

FMS 2015: Samsung Adds Layers to its 3D VNAND, Doubling Capacity While Reducing Power Consumption

Samsung recently added 2TB capacity parts to their 850 EVO SATA SSDs, but today’s announcement may double that. Today at Flash Memory Summit, Samsung has announced a new iteration on their 3D VNAND technology.


Cross section of Samsung 32-layer VNAND. (TechInsights)

The announcement is a new TLC 3D VNAND (the type present in the 850 EVO Series). The new parts consist of an updated die with the following improvements:

  • 48 layer VNAND - up from 32 layers of the previous generation
  • 256Gbit (32GB) capacity - up from 128Gbit (16GB) capacity of 32-layer VNAND
  • 30% reduction in power consumption over 32-layer VNAND


Samsung’s new 48-layer VNAND.

I suspected Samsung would go this route in order to compete with the recent announcements from Intel/Micron and SanDisk. Larger die capacities may not be the best thing for keeping performance high in smaller capacity SSDs (a higher number of smaller capacity dies helps there), but it is definitely a good capability to have since higher capacity per die translates to more efficient flash die production.

The Samsung keynote is at noon today (Pacific), and I will update this piece with any photos relevant to the announcement after that keynote.


I just got out of the Samsung keynote. There were some additional slides with data relevant to this post:


This image simply shows the additional vertical stacking, but adds that Samsung has this new flash in production right now.


The new higher capacity dies enable 1.4x greater density per wafer (realize that this does not mean more dies per wafer, as the image incorrectly suggests).


The power consumption improvements (right) were in the press release, however the speed improvements (left) were not. A 2x improvement in per-die speeds means that Samsung should not see a performance hit if they migrate their existing 128Gbit TLC VNAND SSDs over to these new 256Gbit parts. Speaking of which...


Not only is this new VNAND being produced *this month*, Samsung is retrofitting their 850 EVO line with the new parts. Again, we expect no performance delta but will likely retest these new versions just to double check for any outliers.

There was some more great info from the keynote, but that will appear in another post later today.

Samsung’s press blast appears after the break.

Source: Samsung

Meet the ADATA XPG SX930 family of SSDs

Subject: Storage | August 10, 2015 - 03:07 PM |
Tagged: adata, XPG SX930, JMF670H

ADATA's new XPG SX930 series is aimed at enthusiasts on a budget, the 120GB is about $65, the 240GB at $110 and the 480GB at $200.  The SSDs use the JMicron JMF670H controller, not one we have seen before and they also have a pseudo SLC cache which grows with the size of the drive from 4GB to 8GB to 16GB for the 480GB model.  The SSD Review tested out all three drives and found that the advertised speeds of 550MB/s read and 460MB/s write were more or less accurate and the drives did fairly well in their other tests as well.  If you need more speedy storage and are on a budget you should check out their full review.


"ADATA has memory products for all sections of the market, from consumer to industrial. As of late they have released a new consumer SSD, the XPG SX930. It is marketed towards the gamer and overclocker crowd at a pretty competitive price point."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:


Intel SSD 750 Series 800GB SKU Appears!

Subject: Storage | August 6, 2015 - 06:37 PM |
Tagged: SSD 750, ssd, pcie, NVMe, Intel

Back when we reviewed the Intel SSD 750, it was only available in a 400GB and 1.2TB capacity, leaving a wide expanse of capacity between those two figures.


A new 800GB SKU of the Intel SSD 750 Series of PCIe SSDs was hinted at with the Skylake launch press materials, and it appears to have been a reality:


They may not be on the shelves yet, but appearing on ARK is a pretty good indicator that these are coming soon. We don't have pricing yet, but I would suspect a cost/GB closer to the 1.2TB model than to the 400GB model, which should come in at around $700. Performance sees a slight hit for the 800GB model, likely since this is an 'uneven' number of dies for the design of the SSD DC P3500 line it was based on.

Which would you prefer - a single 800GB or a pair of 400GB SSD 750's in a RAID (now that it is possible)?

Source: Intel ARK
Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel
Tagged: Z170, Skylake, rst, raid, Intel

A quick look at storage

** This piece has been updated to reflect changes since first posting. See page two for PCIe RAID results! **

Our Intel Skylake launch coverage is intense! Make sure you hit up all the stories and videos that are interesting for you!

When I saw the small amount of press information provided with the launch of Intel Skylake, I was both surprised and impressed. The new Z170 chipset was going to have an upgraded DMI link, nearly doubling throughput. DMI has, for a long time, been suspected as the reason Intel SATA controllers have pegged at ~1.8 GB/sec, which limits the effectiveness of a RAID with more than 3 SSDs. Improved DMI throughput could enable the possibility of a 6-SSD RAID-0 that exceeds 3GB/sec, which would compete with PCIe SSDs.


Speaking of PCIe SSDs, that’s the other big addition to Z170. Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology was going to be expanded to include PCIe (even NVMe) SSDs, with the caveat that they must be physically connected to PCIe lanes falling under the DMI-connected chipset. This is not as big of as issue as you might think, as Skylake does not have 28 or 40 PCIe lanes as seen with X99 solutions. Z170 motherboards only have to route 16 PCIe lanes from the CPU to either two (8x8) or three (8x4x4) PCIe slots, and the remaining slots must all hang off of the chipset. This includes the PCIe portion of M.2 and SATA Express devices.

PCH storage config.png

Continue reading our preview of the new storage options on the Z170 chipset!!