Samsung mass produces 1.4GBps PCIe flash cards for notebooks

Latest Samsung flash card exceeds SATA 6Gbps bandwidth

Samsung Electronics announced today that it has begun mass producing what's believed to be the industry's first PCI-Express (PCIe) solid state drive (SSD) for next-generation ultra-slim notebook PCs.

Samsung started shipping its new PCIe flash card to major notebook PC makers earlier this quarter. For example, Apple announced last week that the new MacBook Air now sports its first PCIe-based card. The card gives the system a 45% performance boost over the SATA 3.0-based flash card used in older models.

PCIe flash
Samsung's XP941 PCIe flash drive

Earlier this month, Sony announced that it will begin selling the VAIO Pro 13 laptop with a high-speed PCIe SSD in June.

Samsung's XP941 lineup consists of 512GB, 256GB and 128GB SSDs.

Samsung said its new XP941 throughput "easily surpasses the speed limit of a SATA 6Gbps interface." The flash drive has a sequential read performance of up to 1.4GBps, which is the highest performance available with a PCIe 2.0 interface, it said.

"This allows the drive to read 500GB of data or 100 HD movies as large as 5GB in only six minutes, or 10 HD movies at 5GB in 36 seconds," the company claimed in a news release. "That is approximately seven times faster than a hard disk drive (which would need over 40 minutes for the same task), and more than 2.5 times faster than the fastest SATA SSD."

Samsung said it intends to continuously expand the production volumes of its new flash drive, which is based on circuitry that is 10 to 19 nanometers in size.

Samsung also plans to introduce next-generation enterprise NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) SSDs in an attempt to also take the lead in that high-density SSD market. NVMe is also a PCIe-based interface.

PCIe uses a switch architecture, which has multiple I/O channels to allow the sharing of one endpoint with multiple end devices, according to IHS analyst Fang Zhang.

Serial ATA (SATA), the most common interface for consumer NAND flash products, communicates through a single high-speed serial cable over two pair of conductors.

Young-Hyun Jun, executive vice president of Samsung's memory sales and marketing, said the new PCIe flash is targeted for use in "next-generation" ultra-slim notebook PCs coming this year.

"Samsung plans to continue timely delivery of the most advanced PCIe SSD solutions with higher density and performance, and support global IT companies providing an extremely robust computing environment to consumers," he added.

By mass producing the new PCIe SSD, Samsung said it's establishing the groundwork for a significant transition into the new paradigm in the global SSD market which enables increasing the performance and the memory storage capacity of SSDs at the same time.

With performance more than twice that of SATA-based SSDs, industry pundits have said PCIe flash may become the new standard in not just ultra-slim notebooks, but standard notebooks and desktop PCs.

Gregory Wong, founder and principal analyst at Forward Insights, said with new flash specifications emerging, more mobile devices will be able to take advantage of the performance PCIe flash offers.

For example, Intel and Plextor are working on Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) SSDs that will use a mini-PCIe connector. Plextor's NGFF SSD measures just 22 mm by 44 mm in size and connects to a computer's motherboard through a PCIe 2.0 x2 interface.

Samsung's XP941 comes in the new M.2 form factor (80 mm x 22 mm), weighing approximately 6 grams -- about one-ninth of the 54 grams of a SATA-based 2.5 inch SSD. Also, the XP941's volume is about one-seventh of that of a 2.5-inch SSD, freeing up more space for the notebook's battery and therein providing the opportunity for increased mobility.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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