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The State of Solid State - Chapter II (Page 3)

By: Chris Ramseyer from Dec 8, 2009 @ 2:37 CST
Manufacturer: TweakTown



Today Seagate announced their first solid state product to the public. For many months, maybe even a year, we heard rumors about Seagate's Pulsar. Even though major OEMs have been testing the drive for many months, the secret has been kept very close to the chest that we only learned of the official product name just a few days ago.


In the above features list you can see some of the information presented in our briefing. Under the Best-Fit Applications header we see the word enterprise used twice. Completely absent is Your Desktop, Your Notebook and Your Gaming System that is made with an Enterprise Motherboard and Processors, but is Still Solely Used to Play Modern Warfare II 15 Hours a Day.

Seagate has told us that their first SSD will be OEM only, at least at first. In our discussion a retail drive was never discussed and it is not uncommon for enterprise products to be released only to large OEMs like IBM, Lenovo, Dell and the like. Still, even though Seagate can do a really good job keeping secrets, the OEM market can't keep hardware OEM very long and eventually we will see a few drives enter the channel through gray market and second hand sources. As for me, I should have a drive or two within a month to test and provide a detailed play by play analysis, so keep an eye out.

Seagate's product launch information was very informative and you can read Sean's coverage from the briefing here. Just a few hours after the briefing I had a conversation with Seagate's Senior PR Manager responsible for enterprise storage, security and future emerging storage technologies, David Szabados. David has always been on the level and is an enthusiast at heart. Below you will find some additional information about the Pulsar that was not covered in the press release.

TweakTown: All of the latest SSDs are pretty much defined by the controller used; Indilinx, Intel, JMicron and so forth. For the most part we consider these off the rack so to speak. Did Seagate use an off the rack controller or design their own controller for use in the Pulsar?

David: Regarding various components (not just controller), Seagate does have an extensive in-house team that works directly on the controller, firmware and other areas - essentially covering all areas of design development. But, very much like our HDDs, we also use outside sources for help when it works to our advantage to provide a better end product. So while I'm sorry I'm not permitted to state what specifically is Seagate vs. not, I can say that everything in here is customized, not off-the-rack only, to make it a Seagate product in the end.

TT: The Intel X25-M is a 10 channel controller and in our lab we have observed the number of channels has a direct affect on real world performance. How many channels are currently present in the Pulsar?

David: The Pulsar currently has 16 channels.

TT: How much cache?

David: Pulsar does not have cache. So the next question may be, "Then why/how the power loss feature?" - Pulsar does utilize some amount of volatile buffers in the architecture - thus the ability for power loss functionality.

TT: What type of flash is used, 34nm?

David: Yes, 34nm.

TT: Seagate has a long history of developing and bringing to the market industry firsts. How has Seagate changed SSDs with this launch?

David: This may sound "fluffy" but bear with me as there is a point. There are unique areas of the technology and that's well and good, but not the primary story here. It's more a Seagate story. This being the first enterprise-level SSD to come from a HDD maker, Seagate understands storage obviously. But what does that really mean? Well, a key advantage is that we've worked with our OEMs for years on design and development, qualification and testing, as well as making an ideal supply chain to deliver the storage volumes that our customers require.

When you're talking a company that revenues 12B, you do have to have all of your processes in place to keep the efficient engine running. Also, we are one of the leaders in standards development - and there has been, as you know, lots of hype about performance and endurance and so large OEMs are weary of being let down with exaggerated claims.

Long story short, they know that if Seagate puts its name on it, we will stand behind it. And we've got the resources in place for volume delivery, support, etc.

TT: We have already tested one consumer/prosumer SSD, the PhotoFast V5 that was limited by SATA 3G. Why did Seagate opt to make the new Pulsar a SATA 3G product instead of SATA 6G?

David: Right now our OEMs are calling for use of existing SATA within their designs. The chipsets of many blades is what Pulsar is designated to go into and they use 3G SATA, so it's a matter of "making what our customers want".

We always take a proof-is-in-the-pudding attitude around and judge products based on what we find in our own labs. With history as our guide, I can tell you that Seagate almost always makes some tasty pudding. Judging from the number of controllers alone, I think we are going to find that the Pulsar will be able to saturate a SATA 3.0 connection. Obviously a SATA or SAS 6Gb/s link would be ideal, at least in theory with the information we have gathered, but Seagate has designed the Pulsar as a drop in replacement, ready to work in servers that are already on the market and give the OEM's customers an easy upgrade path. The cache information given is a little odd, but we will just wait for our test sample to see how it affects performance.

When it really comes down to it, the facts are that Seagate, the world's largest hard drive manufacturer and company that carries the biggest stick, has now entered the solid state market. Seagate's potential to change the entire SSD landscape is even bigger than what we saw when Intel released the X25 Series.

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