Seagate Invests In TLC NAND Flash Controller DensBits

Seagate Technology on Monday unveiled a strategic investment in SSD controller startup DensBits Technologies and said it is working with the company to develop new SSDs based on high-density TLC NAND Flash technology.

Seagate, Cupertino, Calif., declined to provide details about the size of its investment in DensBits or what part of that company's equity is now owned by Seagate.

DensBits, which had yet to come to market, develops controller technology that supports 3 bits/cell (TLC) and 2 bits/cell (MLC) Flash storage devices, including SSDs and embedded storage in mobile devices.

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SSDs have been traditionally divided into two primary categories depending on the technology of the Flash memory on which they are built. Some SSDs feature single-level cell (SLC) memory technology, in which one bit of data occupies one cell of the flash memory, making it optimized for performance and data reliability. A faster-growing part of the SSD market features multi-level cell (MLC) technology, in which two bits of data occupy one cell of the Flash memory for greater capacity.

Squeezing reliability and performance out of lower-cost NAND, including MLC and TLC, or triple-level cell, technologies requires advanced controllers.

DensBits in April released its first controller, the DB3610, which the company said reduces cost significantly over MLC technology. The DB3610 also provides sequential read performance of 95 MBs per second and write performance of 75 MBs per second, as well as random reads at 4,700 IOs per second and random writes at 1,200 IOPS.

Seagate already has its own SSD controller technology, but it is interested in the DensBits technology as a way to approach the market in a different way, said Rocky Pimentel, Seagate chief sales and marketing officer.

"DensBits has very interesting architecture," Pimentel said. "It hasn't come to market yet. But it's a very efficient architecture. It's already beyond what is available today and provides a big jump in performance."

TLC, as a technology for turning NAND Flash memory into SSDs, is in the early cycle of usage, Pimentel said.

"But there's no argument that that's going to be the next version of widely-used NAND," he said. "That's why this partnership puts us in a strong position for the next generation of SSD technology."

Pimentel used a modem analogy to describe the advance in controller technology provided by DensBits. "If we were using 56-Kbits-per-second dial-up networking today, DensBits jumps the industry to ADSL," he said.

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The modem analogy is no coincidence. The engineers at DensBits come primarily from the communications industry, Pimentel said.

"Their implementation of SSD technology comes from the communications world," he said. "It's a different approach from the storage side. In communications, the ability to filter signals is important. DensBits engineers are able to bring much more reliable technology to SSD controllers."

DensBits' architecture also provides for a theoretical seven-times improvement in power efficiency compared to MLC technology, Pimentel said. "That's important for mobile devices and enterprise and cloud environments where power usage is a concern," he said.