Silicon Motion Inc. produced the first drop-in replacement of the post-SandForce era. Like SandForce, SMI gives customers controllers, custom firmware, engineering support and back end support. This allows a smaller or even very large company to build a product with Silicon Motion as a partner and then quickly bring that product to market.
At Computex, we heard many great things about SMI from partners. One company told us that it reported a problem early in the development cycle, and an SMI field engineer was in the lab to help the same day. Just like in the retail market, when customer service and superior products are available, word gets around fast.
Silicon Motion has displayed a wall of product wins at the last few trade shows we've attended and when we've met with the company. This is just a simple display of branded SSDs that use SMI technology. In the beginning there were a handful of products, maybe 10 or so, but the latest wall was something to behold, with at least 60 products, maybe even more, as we didn't count them up exactly.
The company has gained success in the non-volatile memory product category. SMI started by supplying controllers to smaller companies like Angelbird and Adata but now has design wins with larger firms like Crucial and SanDisk.
At FMS, it took me quite a while to find the SMI booth. I was walking up and down the rows of smaller booths before realizing the company was displaying right next to Toshiba, Samsung and SanDisk. We've all heard the term "Fake it till you make it," but I don't think that applies here, as Silicon Motion has clearly made it as an NVM controller designer.
The SM2246EN was a great success, but now SMI is ready to tackle a new set of challenges. The SM2256 with support for TLC is coming to market now. We've talked about the SM2256 before and tested the controller on a few occasions. Armed with NANDXtend ECC technology that triples the program/erase cycles of TLC flash, this controller will quickly gain market share as TLC flash becomes readily available. Toshiba has begun shipping A19 TLC to customers, and 15nm, often referred to as 1Znm, will begin to ship soon. Micron will have SSD-grade 16nm TLC soon as well, and that will open the TLC flood gates even more.
The SM2246XT is a newer product from SMI that is presently an exclusive for SanDisk. SanDisk currently ships one product that has several SKUs with the DRAM-less SATA 6 Gbps controller in several form factors. Most of these products will ship in industrial applications like point of sale, casino and display signage. Some may end up in retail SSD products used in notebooks and desktops as the race to the bottom travels without DRAM.
The product we are most excited about from SMI is the first real performance offering from the company. All of Silicon Motion's other controllers use either two or four channels and take aim at the entry level and mainstream product categories. The newly-announced SM2260 uses fourth-generation NANDXtend technology in an 8-channel NVMe protocol design.
This controller communicates with the host over PCIe 3.0 and has four lanes with up to 32 Gbps throughput. The new high performance controller will support 2D and 3D NAND flash in both MLC and TLC bit depths. SMI told us the new SM2260 will achieve up to 2200 MB/s sequential read and 1100 MB/s sequential write speeds. We don't think this product will launch in retail parts before Phison's PS5007-E7 NVMe controller, though, but we suspect these two controllers will be fighting for any market share left open from Samsung's SM951-NVMe.