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Micron's 32-Channel Controller Simplifies PCIe-Based SSDs

Micron RealSSD P320h Review: A PCIe Drive Capable Of 3.2 GB/s
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Micron set out to simplify PCI Express-based SSDs with its P320h. But before we can understand how the company does this, let's first have a look at a more conventional layout. The image below corresponds to Intel's SSD 910.

Starting from the PCI Express connector on the left, you have a RAID/HBA chip attached to a number of SAS- or SATA-enabled controllers. Those controllers, in turn, communicate with the NAND. In essence, you're taking a number of SSDs (in the example above, four), hooking them up to a host bus adapter, and presenting them as a single device.

In contrast, the P320h consists of a PCI Express interface, a host controller with the ability to communicate over PCI Express built-in, and the flash memory. When you take the HBA out of the equation, you alleviate bandwidth limitations and minimize latency.

Clearly, that custom ASIC is responsible for enabling Micron's design. The company partnered with IDT (Integrated Device Technology) to develop the P320h's controller, combining its extensive knowledge of NAND with IDT's leadership in high-speed serial switching. The result is a 32-channel (!) controller built into a 1517-pin FCBGA (Flip Chip Ball Grid Array) package.

Let that sink in for a second. Most of the controllers you find in SATA-based SSDs communicate across eight channels. It makes sense, then, that it'd take a quartet of "eight-channel SSDs" on a PCI Express-based add-in card to saturate the interface. Micron makes it very clear that its P320h loves workloads that push high queue depths, and we can see the drive's controller was designed to shoulder those intense environments. As a matter of fact, company representatives recommended that we test using queue depths at least as high as 256.

As any hardware geek can tell you, there's something about a bare circuit board that begs for examination, and the P320h's layout is incredibly clean. This half-height, half-length (HHHL) PCI Express 2.1 card is about as elegant as it gets, consisting of the passively-cooled controller flanked by NAND flash and DDR3 cache.

The Micron/IDT controller sits front and center. Immediately to its left are five Micron 256 MB DDR3-1333 memory packages, with another four around back, totaling 2.25 GB of cache. Additionally, the PCB hosts 32 NAND packages, each with 16 GB of Micron's 34 nm ONFi 2.1 single-level cell memory. There is also a pair of double-sided mezzanine boards, adding 32 more packages. All told, the 700 GB RealSSD P320h hosts 1 TB of SLC NAND.

The 32-channel controller, the 2.25 GB of cache, and the 1 TB of SLC memory should all be clear indicators that this thing is an enterprise-class piece of equipment designed for enterprise-class workloads. Fortunately, we have some of those to throw at it.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    wolley74 , January 3, 2013 3:22 AM
    my wallet just had a heart attack, this thing would be freaking amazing to have
  • 12 Hide
    bawchicawawa , January 3, 2013 3:53 AM
    mayankleoboy1i dont see this as the future of consumer SSD's, just like a 16 core CPU is not the future of consumer CPU's.



    Such an apples to oranges comparison...
  • 10 Hide
    rdc85 , January 3, 2013 12:05 PM
    drwho1$10 dollars per GB.... LOL


    It using SLC and geared towards enterprise market...

    IMO it understandable price...
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    wolley74 , January 3, 2013 3:22 AM
    my wallet just had a heart attack, this thing would be freaking amazing to have
  • 12 Hide
    bawchicawawa , January 3, 2013 3:53 AM
    mayankleoboy1i dont see this as the future of consumer SSD's, just like a 16 core CPU is not the future of consumer CPU's.



    Such an apples to oranges comparison...
  • 9 Hide
    memadmax , January 3, 2013 4:11 AM
    Eliminating the SAS controller is the logical way to have these pci-e based ssd drives...
    Kinda surprised something like this didn't come out first as it makes more sense....
  • -9 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , January 3, 2013 4:32 AM
    bawchicawawaSuch an apples to oranges comparison...


    really ? Increasingly, performance is basically dependent on extracting parallelism. Whether in storage or in CPU performance.
    Desktop/Mainstream users just dont do so much in parallel that they can fully use all the hardware.
  • 5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , January 3, 2013 4:35 AM
    mayankleoboy1i dont see this as the future of consumer SSD's, just like a 16 core CPU is not the future of consumer CPU's.

    I see a purpose for 16 core processors. How are we going to otherwise be able to run Crysis 6?
  • 7 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , January 3, 2013 4:38 AM
    JOSHSKORNI see a purpose for 16 core processors. How are we going to otherwise be able to run Crysis 6?


    Use a 5000 core GPU ?
  • 2 Hide
    youssef 2010 , January 3, 2013 6:29 AM
    ArticleAlthough read performance is out of this world, the RealSSD P320h's write performance isn't nearly as spectacular. That's not to say the drive doesn't do well; it's just not as impressive after looking at those massive read numbers. read performance was out of this world, the write performance wasn't nearly as spectacular. Now, that's not to say that the P320h doesn't perform well, it's just not as impressive as the read results


    ????????!!!!!!!!!!!
  • 9 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 3, 2013 7:26 AM
    After all these years it's nice to see the OCZ Revo at least mentioned. Considering a bootable PCI-E x4 SSD can be had for under $200 for over 5 years now, and is on it's 4th+ generation, one can only wonder why it's been ignored for so long.
  • 6 Hide
    Marcus52 , January 3, 2013 7:44 AM
    Micron deserves a pat on the back for this one!

    Thanks for the review, love to see this kind of advancement and a peak into the future new hardware brings with it, even if it isn't directly applicable to me at this point in time.
  • 4 Hide
    goodguy713 , January 3, 2013 9:19 AM
    because the revo drive is a picky bastard that only plays nice with certain hardware.. i have a revo drive 3 and i love it but at the same time its a love hate relationship
  • -3 Hide
    Reynod , January 3, 2013 10:45 AM
    Its still not fast enough ... I'm not impressed.

    Can you put two of them in RAID0 ??

    Signed,

    Bonkers :) 
  • 10 Hide
    rdc85 , January 3, 2013 12:05 PM
    drwho1$10 dollars per GB.... LOL


    It using SLC and geared towards enterprise market...

    IMO it understandable price...
  • 6 Hide
    Fulgurant , January 3, 2013 1:27 PM
    mayankleoboy1i dont see this as the future of consumer SSD's, just like a 16 core CPU is not the future of consumer CPU's.


    Eh, depending on how far in the future we're talking about, neither of those statements is iron-clad. In the case of a 16-core processor, it's pretty much guaranteed that we will eventually see one in the consumer space, at mainstream prices. Whether the extra cores on that CPU will offer any compelling benefit to the mainstream consumer is an open question, but at least those cores do offer meaningful performance benefits to hardcore multi-taskers.

    Similarly, current consumer-grade SSDs offer very nearly instantaneous responsiveness already -- unless the user attempts to perform multiple disk-intensive tasks simultaneously. But who knows what the future holds? You could make a case that current enterprise-grade SSDs (or something similar to them) are far more likely to make a meaningful mark on the consumer market years from now than 16-core processors, because the benefits of CPU parallelism are limited in principle. By contrast, the benefit of storage speed is only limited by the speed of the components that rely on it; storage speed applies both to singular and parallel tasks.

    That said, I agree with your sentiment if not with the particulars of your argument: my gut reaction to the article was that although 3.2 GB/sec is a very impressive number, I already feel like I'm flying at the ~0.5 GB/sec (at best) that I get out of my Intel 330. From the consumer perspective, performance comparisons between different SSDs almost always seem to me materially irrelevant, so it's hard to get too excited about the performance of an enterprise-grade SSD, even in the abstract.

    Still, this is a worthy review of an interesting product. Appreciate the insight.
  • -6 Hide
    oxxfatelostxxo , January 3, 2013 2:53 PM
    This is a pointless waste of money, for less You can get a high end Raid card and enough ssds to have a read and write over 3gb/s as well as more storage, oh and the best part, Redundancy if wanted and the fact that a failure doesnt mean a multi thousand dollar loss.
  • 3 Hide
    freggo , January 3, 2013 4:14 PM
    rdc85It using SLC and geared towards enterprise market... IMO it understandable price...


    1989... 1MB of memory chips (card extra) was $100 wholesale !
    We sold them by the boat load for Amiga computers.

    And yes, that is 1 MegaByte...
    an 8MB card retailed for $1,800 (and that's in 1989 Dollars).

  • 2 Hide
    Andy Chow , January 3, 2013 4:35 PM
    Thank you for the nice metrics, like $/PB-Written. It's the type of useful information lacking from many reviews.
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , January 3, 2013 5:11 PM
    youssef 2010????????!!!!!!!!!!!
    Fixed, thanks for the heads up!
  • 2 Hide
    drewriley , January 3, 2013 5:13 PM
    Andy ChowThank you for the nice metrics, like $/PB-Written. It's the type of useful information lacking from many reviews.

    I am glad you find it useful, it is something that I have always cared about and tested because I have been burned in the past.
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