External drive enclosure interfaces

Development interface

Cascaded drives

Hybrid USB and e.SATA port
New independant SATA host controllers

Silicon Image has released three new additions to its SteelVine line of storage products—the SiI5723, SiI5734 and SiI5744. The three new products are storage processors designed for motherboards, consumer electronics and external hard drive enclosure devices. The new SiI5723, SiI5734 and SiI5744 are equipped with a SATA 3.0Gbps host interface and can accommodate two SATA 3.0Gbps devices.

In its second generation, the new SteelVine products offer lower costs due to a smaller die and package, e.SATA cascading, a user API interface over I2C, host-side NCQ support, manual drive locking, one button backup and new RAID modes. Using a 180nm fabrication process the second-generation SteelVine products manages to keep the die and package small to fit in motherboards, consumer electronics and external drive enclosures.

The e.SATA cascading features are quite interesting and allow users to have one e.SATA hard drive at first and daisy-chain additional drives as the drives fill up.  Silicon Image had a demonstration of the cascading capabilities at its booth during the Intel Developer Forum this week. Windows was able to detect the first hard drive that was plugged into the e.SATA port as soon as it was plugged in. The hard drive enclosure has a second e.SATA connector to connect additional hard drives. When a second hard drive is installed Windows automatically detects the cascaded array as one big larger hard drive. If the second hard drive is removed, Windows will detect a smaller size. The cascading features will also work over primary USB host (computer or other host) as well, though daisy chaining will still be done with e.SATA.

Silicon Image has also implemented a user API interface over I2C to allow drive enclosure manufacturers to add a separate LCD display for independent management purposes. The new RAID modes include SAFE33 and SAFE50. These modes aren’t official RAID specifications but quite similar to Intel’s Matrix RAID Storage Technology. In SAFE33 and SAFE50 modes the controller is able to dedicate 33% or 50% of a hard drive as a SAFE area for protected data. The remaining portion of the hard drive will operate in BIG mode and show up as one large hard drives. The different RAID modes can be selected using a switch on the back of most external hard drive enclosures or selected via a GUI on motherboards and notebooks.

All three SteelVine products are quite similar. The SiI5723 is the integrated product which supports most of the new features with the exception of the new SAFE33 and SAFE50 RAID modes, though RAID 0, 1, BIG and JBOD are supported. This controller will operate independently without driver or OS support and offer cascading features. Silicon Image is targeting the SiI5723 for integration purposes such as motherboards, notebooks and consumer electronics devices such as set top boxes. The SiI5734 and SiI5744 are quite similar and based upon the SiI5723. The SiI5744 adds an integrated USB controller, SAFE33 and SAFE50 RAID modes. Silicon Image is targeting the SiI5744 for dual hard drive external enclosures. Lastly is the SiI5734, which is similar to the SiI5744 but only supports one hard drive, though cascading features are still supported. Since only one hard drive is supported the drive modes are limited to BIG and JBOD. Silicon Image is catering the SiI5734 for single-drive external enclosures.

Also shown at the Silicon Image booth is a new hybrid USB and e.SATA port designed by one of its Taiwanese partners. The new hybrid port integrates USB and e.SATA connectivity into one port. This can be implemented on motherboards, notebooks, set top boxes or even external hard drive enclosures and can save space in tightly packed devices.

There’s no word on when Silicon Image’s SteelVine products will arrive as its up to the manufacturers, though we can expect samples to at least show up before January. Pricing information is also currently unavailable, although Silicon Image representatives assured DailyTech that the chips cost less than $5 in large quantities.

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