JMicron's JMF667H Steps Up To Redeem A Troubled Name
It's true that SATA 3.1 is slowly going out of vogue, and that next year you'll start seeing fewer SSDs leveraging it. They'll still be prolific, dominating the sales charts, but they won't be getting as much attention. PCI Express and SATA Express will start to pick up steam, demonstrate lower power consumption, and dominate the performance charts. They'll become the new sexy in solid-state storage. I think it's reasonable to expect that a mainstream laptop in 2015 or 2016 will employ a different interface and form factor than what we're testing today.
That makes now the golden age of SATA. From here, it's all downhill. Or is it?
After years of testing SATA-based drives, it's clear that most mainstream users are still served well by 6 Gb/s drives (even if the underlying technology is limited by the interface in certain ways). They're good with power, they're fast, and they're cheap. If you give me the choice between two solid SATA drives or one SATA Express-based repository, I'll take the RAID array in a desktop machine. The math works out a little differently for laptops. But even in that application, SATA is still smart.
That's because the power savings you can enable through a PCIe-based device isn't as good as the current crop of SATA SSDs. DevSlp was introduced with SATA 3.1, and the latest-generation notebooks are better for it. Even if your storage subsystem isn't DevSlp-capable, slumber states are still quite conservative.
If only for that reason, it's too early to signal the demise of SATA-based SSDs. In truth, none of the existing PCIe-based solutions in the M.2 form factor (at least the ones I've tested) radically improve your computing experience, particularly in the mobile space, where workloads are predictably milder.
All of that is my long-winded way of affirming that JMicron's power-efficient, cost-effective JMF667H SATA controller is a good idea. And the processor's building blocks can almost assuredly be applied to PCIe-based silicon down the road. In fact, I'm predicting that we see just that. But for now, JMicron's platform is a good mainstream solution.
Performance is actually breathtakingly-impressive paired to Toshiba's A19 flash. Don't expect too many drives leveraging that pricier combination, though. More relevant will be ONFi-compliant NAND in budget-oriented drives. That's too bad, since the A19-equipped reference platforms best the M6S and M6M in several of our benchmarks. Those Plextor drives utilize a Marvell four-channel controller and Toshiba's A19 flash as well, so the fight's pretty darned fair. In my mind, this demonstrates the 55 nm JMF667H to be competitive where it counts: actual workloads.
As we move forward, watching to see what the rest of 2014 has to offer storage mavens like myself, don't forget about JMicron. The Taiwanese firm isn't abandoning third-gen SATA, nor is neglecting the future. Against all odds, this company (and Silicon Motion) is looking to succeed where others have already failed. Now that we've tested its reference-class hardware, the real question becomes: how does the JMF667H compare Silicon Motion's SM2246EN? I know a good way to find out.