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Flash Memory, Asus, And The Arrival Of USB 3.0

CES 2010, Day 0: The Calm Before The Storm
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Speeding Up Flash

Manu Pillai, who manages business development for chip startup Nethra, discussed the company's work on building next-generation, high-end controllers for flash. Current controller architecture is a holdover from the hard drive era and even floppies. Most flash drives, for example, are still formatted FAT16 or FAT32. What’s needed are new controllers that can enable the movement of data to and from hundreds or thousands of flash devices simultaneously, while still maintaining the wear leveling needed for flash storage longevity.

As more professional-level cameras ship with high volumes of embedded storage (not your typical camcorder with SD slots), they can’t be kept offline while data is being copied from them. Imagine being able to plug in a dozen cameras at the end of a long shooting day and copying all the data simultaneously in seconds. These types of controllers might also enable more effective use of flash storage on the workstation side, since even current-generation SSDs still offer limited write performance.

On a more prosaic front, Micron was showing off its new line of SATA 6 Gb/s SSDs, offered up in 128GB and 256GB capacities, shipping in the next few weeks.

Asus Spills The Beans

Asus launched a number of mobile products in one of the earliest press conferences of the day. One of the products, the G73 gaming laptop, will offer a mobile, DX11-capable Radeon HD 5870, complete with 1GB of video RAM, according to Asus chairman Jonney Shih. The Asus head noted that the G73 generates a 3DMark Vantage score of 7,200 (Ed.: the desktop version of ATI's card does 17,428 3DMarks; here we go again with the naming shenanigans). Other specs include an Intel Core i7-720M and a slick new design that moves heat-generating elements to the rear of the system, which is thicker. This allows the keyboard to be canted at five degrees, improving its ergonomics.

Asus also launched a series of netbooks designed by pop designer Karim Rashid and a thin-and-light laptop skinned with a material developed from bamboo, which Shih noted was more easily recyclable while being manufactured from an easily renewable resource.

Another interesting design is the NX90, a desktop replacement with two trackpads (one on the left, one on the right) and speakers that remain external to the display, even when the unit is folded. The audio system, designed by David Lewis of Bang & Olufsen, supposedly offers superior audio quality and an improved capability for synthesizing surround sound from two speakers. The dual trackpads are intriguing, particularly if someone writes drivers that allow dual-pad gestures.

USB 3.0 Arrives With A Vengeance

We’re also seeing numerous USB 3.0 announcements. Gigabyte and Asus already have several motherboards out with discrete USB 3.0 controllers onboard. Two (the Asus P6X58D Premium and Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD3) have received certification from the USB Interface Working Group. Western Digital, Seagate, and LaCie are announcing storage solutions with USB 3.0 connectivity as well.

HP will shortly be shipping a version of its Envy 15 Macbook Pro-lookalike laptop with onboard USB 3.0 ports. Fujitsu also received USB-IF certification for its FMV-BIBLIO NF/G70 notebook PC.

In addition, ASMedia, Fujitsu, LucidPort, and SymWave join NEC shipping USB 3.0 to SATA storage controllers, which will show up in a variety of storage devices, including do-it-yourself storage products.

We also came across In Win, notable mostly for its mainstream PC cases. But the company is branching out into enthusiast territory. Representatives of the company were showing off a couple of power supplies, one 1,200W and an 850W unit, at the CES Unveiled press event. The company also demonstrated an interesting microATX mini-tower with enough cooling for performance geeks, and actually deep enough for big graphics cards (note the Radeon HD 5970 in the photo; that card is a foot long).

In the coming days, we have many meetings set up with makers of PC enthusiast gear, including AMD and Intel, Gigabyte, MSI, OCZ, Patriot Memory, Thermaltake, and more. So while there’s lots of action on the purely CE front (check Tom’s Guide for that), PC performance geeks will also have lots of joy at this year’s CES.

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