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JMicron seeks redemption with a new chip that could drive mainstream SSD adoption

DailyTech has learned that JMicron will be unveiling a new NAND flash controller for use in Solid State Drives (SSDs) in the near future. The JMF612 chip uses an ARM9 core in a 289-ball TFBGA package, and will support the use of up to 256MB of DDR or DDR2 DRAM as an external cache.

The new chip was designed to remedy stuttering problems during random write operations, which has plagued SSDs using the JMF602 flash controller. JMicron rushed out a JMF602B chip to address shortcomings, but was only partially successful. Several firms decided to combine two JMF602B chips and an internal RAID chip from JMicron to boost performance. Although it raised costs significantly, it was still cheaper than controllers from Samsung and Indilinx, which were not yet available at the time. It was for this reason that SSDs like OCZ's Apex and G.Skill's Titan series were born.

The JMF612 chip is designed especially for a new generation of NAND flash chips built using smaller process geometries that will be entering the market soon. The new flash chips will be smaller, faster, and cheaper to manufacture. IM Flash Technologies, a joint venture between Intel and Micron, is already building 34nm NAND, while 32nm NAND from Samsung and Toshiba will soon be entering production. The use of a cheap single-chip controller and new higher density flash chips could cut prices in half by the vital Christmas shopping season.

SSDs using the chip will also be able to support Native Command Queuing (NCQ), which was designed to increase performance of SATA hard disks by allowing the drive to internally optimize the order in which read and write commands are executed. NCQ is used in SSDs when there is latency due to high CPU usage. It also supports 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) protocols for full disk encryption. This provides data security mandated for classified and/or privileged information in government and corporations.

While most drives using the new chip will be designed for its SATA II interface in mind, it does have a USB 2.0 interface for data transfers and firmware updates. The JMF612 has an ARM9 embedded processor with 32KB of ROM and 128KB of RAM at its core. Data integrity is provided by BCH ECC in hardware, with the ability to correct up to 24 random bit errors per 1024 bytes. Dynamic and static wear leveling technologies, along with updated bad block management software help to ensure long life of the drive.

The first terabyte SSDs on the market could end up using this controller chip. It uses eight memory channels to access its storage quickly and without lag.

JMicron will be showing engineering samples of its latest controller at Computex 2009 at the beginning of June. Mass production of the new chip is expected to start in July. The company is also working on a flash controller that will work at SATA 6Gbps speeds, but it is not expected to be ready for mass production until the middle of 2010.

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RE: To the doubters out there
By amanojaku on 5/26/2009 12:30:19 PM , Rating: 5
Flash storage isn't meant to replace optical media. It's meant to replace hard disks because of the lack of mechanical stress. Personally, I think optical media would have been dead a long time ago if it didn't make software distribution easy. If bandwidth caps take hold that would be the only thing keeping optical media around.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Tsuwamono on 5/26/2009 12:39:47 PM , Rating: 1
<3 my unlimited. Unfortunately there is only one company in my area that allows unlimited. Thankfully they also happen to be the cheapest price/mbps and the best customer service. I lucked out on that one.

RE: To the doubters out there
By BikeDude on 5/26/2009 12:54:10 PM , Rating: 5
If cheap enough, why can't flash replace blu-ray?

What is the price of ROM these days? I'd very much like to buy HD movies on a small cartridge no bigger than compact flash. Much better than those big blu-ray discs that eats up costly shelfspace.

RE: To the doubters out there
By ICBM on 5/26/2009 2:27:37 PM , Rating: 3
Big blu-ray discs......Laser Discs anyone?

RE: To the doubters out there
By Samus on 5/26/2009 6:26:48 PM , Rating: 5
The reason optical media will prevail: there's no way in hell you can manufacture a 25GB flash nand for a dollar because the rare metals, controller and more 'complex' assembly process will always cost more than that.

Optical media is a molded plastic disc. It's infinately cheaper to produce and mass-produce.

RE: To the doubters out there
By MrPoletski on 5/26/09, Rating: -1
RE: To the doubters out there
By Merlyn2220 on 5/26/2009 9:30:47 PM , Rating: 2
Oil prices would have to hit $1000 per barrel before it would significantly affect the price of a CD or Bluray disc.

RE: To the doubters out there
By HrilL on 5/27/2009 12:28:31 AM , Rating: 2
Yes because plastic is dependent on oil? Too bad plastics can be made from just about anything organic. $175 a barrel would make it cheaper to use other sources than oil. I believe at that price coal is even cost effective. Algae and corn would be cheaper at around 140 a barrel.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Samus on 5/28/2009 12:15:26 AM , Rating: 2
Saying plastic media will become too expensive due to oil prices rising is like saying silicone waffers will become too expensive because of a sand shortage. There are way more expensive components and the amount of plastic needed for optical media is so marginal (and of low, non-medical grade quality) that its a moot topic to even discuss.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Belard on 5/27/2009 8:18:08 AM , Rating: 2
But an HD movie with extras doesn't need NAS type tech. A version of FLASH will do (non-writable) as long as the data can be made instant.

As of today, $15~20 gets you 8GB. Compared to my last 2GB was $12 3 months ago, 2 years ago was $20 for 1GB stick. So yeah, in 5 or so years I can see an SD-Flash chip with a movie on it that you can buy. Unlike SSDs, it doesn't need to be super fast.

32GB is currently $75~80 The price of my very first Flash key from 5 years ago, 64mb Lexar (still works). These memory cards WILL be replacing Blu-Ray, which is a good format... and the last optical I think.

Once we go to some Flash/card for our HD movies, we won't need opticals. The players will be DIRT cheap. No motor, no door or loader. Just a slot. No noise, low power. Just a CPU/GPU to decode the movie.

In 3 years, SSD 512GB should be $100.
Current prices: 256gb = $600~800. 512GB = $1500. The first SSDs (2 years ago) were $800+ for 16~32GB.

They are scaling up faster than HDDs. So yeah, they will be cheaper, larger capacity, faster and more reliable.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Jansen on 5/27/2009 10:06:49 AM , Rating: 2
CDs and Blu-Ray discs cost pennies to make.

Digital distribution is far more likely than flash media based distribution.

Even at $1, a flash drive would be at least 5-10x more expensive to produce. It is the shipping, labour, and retail markup you pay for at a store.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Regs on 5/29/2009 9:16:06 AM , Rating: 2
Not sure what you're trying to say. The manufacturer sells it to the retailer and the retailer sells it to the customers for a mark-up. Mark-ups are after costs of goods sold are accounted for. Overhead, direct/indirect labor, direct/indirect materials are accounted for the costs of goods sold when the manufacturer sells it to the retailer.

RE: To the doubters out there
By icanhascpu on 5/30/2009 3:05:56 PM , Rating: 2
Not if the telecommunication companies get what they want.

RE: To the doubters out there
By icanhascpu on 5/30/2009 3:25:55 PM , Rating: 2
Come on guys, I thought DailyTech commenter were a little smarter than this.

I doubt the cost of making a optical disk will ever be more than making a flash ThumbDrive either. Here is the thing with that; there is more to a company trying to distribute media than just that. If you want to make a arguement in your favor that makes any sort of real world sense you have to account for much more than preschool logic.

1. Flash is rewritable.
Media distributes like NetFlix could do a number of things with that simple fact. New movie coming out? Start replacing low-demand FlashDrives with high demand ones simply by writeing over. You just doubled the worth of the drive. Or halved the production cost of it. Do that a few times and the actual cost of the drive is ALOT lower than you have convinced yourself it is.
2. Resilience
Flash is much much tougher then optical media. How many DVD/HD do you think places like Netflix or Blockbuster have to replace per day? I would say a single optical dist will last a maximum of ten(10) people before it starts getting its first movbie-skipping scratches AT BEST. At that point its pretty much worthless to a company that wants to pride itself on quality assurance. A flash drive will almost certainly last several times as long. Once again extending the actual cost of manufacturing much lower than some might think.
3. Flexibility and Encryption
Flash drives will undoubtedly skyrocket in terms of space as the processes that create them get ever lower. 1TB will not be uncommon in the next 5 years. Thats not exactly a long time. Thats not even enough time for blueray to be replaced. The fact that you can fit several movies/whatever and encrypt it, and link decryption to an account as you, say, rent a custom FlashDrive with 10 1080p movies on it, rented all together, or as a package deal (whatever). The point of that is, you have 1 FlashDrive vs. 10 optical disks. 10 Disks that have a 10times greater possibility to get scratched. Once again, that drives the actual cost of creating a flashdrive vs. optical divided by 10 in that case alone.

So no. No way in HELL will optical media be less to manufacture IF YOU INTENT ON ACTUALLY USING THEM.

RE: To the doubters out there
By akugami on 5/26/2009 8:44:12 PM , Rating: 2
I had a decent collection of Karaoke LD's. Damn those things were expensive, but awesome quality vs VHS when they came out.

RE: To the doubters out there
By omnicronx on 5/26/2009 3:23:21 PM , Rating: 3
Lets see.. ~1 dollar.. compared to who knows what for 50+ GB flash memory.

It would also surely require a dual channel controller to meet the required speeds.

You would not be able to use some 10$ flash drive from bestbuy, it would require high quality parts.

This is just not feasible at this time, nor will it be for a long time to come.

RE: To the doubters out there
By therealnickdanger on 5/26/2009 3:32:48 PM , Rating: 3
Right. I highly doubt that flash memory, when combined with controllers and interface components, would ever be as inexpensive as a blank BD. I think most people seem to forget the $80 NES cartridges of the 1980s. And people whine about paying $60 for games today?

When it comes to a cheap read-only medium, it's very hard to beat optical disc technology.

RE: To the doubters out there
By StevoLincolnite on 5/27/2009 1:50:03 AM , Rating: 2
I liked the NES Cartridges, I was happy to pay a little extra so that:

1) No Load times.

2) More kid proof. (I have a thing about scratched discs, at least with a cart I don't have to stress about it sitting on the floor as much).

RE: To the doubters out there
By Zoomer on 5/27/2009 11:57:30 AM , Rating: 3
Until dust/oxidation gets you.

RE: To the doubters out there
By icanhascpu on 5/30/2009 3:28:28 PM , Rating: 1
I still have working Atari cards. Yet most of my PlayStation CDs are scar-ached to shit. So you tell me what cost more in the longrun.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Ratinator on 5/26/2009 2:38:21 PM , Rating: 2
My comment was directed at someone's comment about a month ago where they indicated that flash will never get a good market share and become main stream and thus will continue to use re-writable optical discs because flash will never be as cheap as optical storage. Well I guess if you want to have 20 or more Blue Ray discs to deal with....go right ahead.

RE: To the doubters out there
By Jansen on 5/26/2009 3:29:45 PM , Rating: 2
Blu-Ray has a role as a medium for one-way content distribution, where you don't expect to be returning the disk.

USB flash drives are cheap, but will never quite reach the price points of an optical disc due to interface costs.

RE: To the doubters out there
By tastyratz on 5/27/2009 9:59:11 AM , Rating: 3
They might however reach a point where the cost to manufacture becomes negligible. People think usb and think expensive - but cost of media will go down if you go with a format that relies on host based circuitry. Think less usb flash and think more sd card.

Once media is fast enough that you could write to the entire contents of a 32 or 64gb sd card in under a minute or 2 I think we might see a shift away from optical. Using flash media in that context presents new opportunities.

Stamping optical media requires a large operation and overhead, it takes a facility.

To quickly deploy you need a burner, and while faster it requires some sort of organic material in the disc that breaks down compromising longevity. People wont buy tangible movies if they only last a few years.

Think kiosk based distribution systems. These can be massive data storage tanks holding thousands of movies. They can have multiple autoload cardreaders and printing capabilities. Pick your movie from the screen, scan your card, and give it 2 minutes. It writes your movie, prints the cover art, and spits out in the tray.

Entire movie departments can be replaced with the equivalent to a "ms pack man" sized footprint. a "blockbuster" can be ever few streetcorners like an atm.

Want just the movie? 3.99.
How about the deleted scenes and making of? only 50c extra!
if you buy now, they will put the sequel on the same media for only 2.99 more.
What about just renting the movie? An expiration date 7 days from now can be written to the media saving you 0.99 today.
How about the soundtrack? its only 1.99 more.

While optical media is cheap to mass produce, the elimination of nearly all overhead becomes attractive enough to become competitive. Match that with the incentive of the endless possibilities having build to order media sales and you will start seeing a price point in a few years where it becomes much more viable.

I agree with what others said, I think Bluray will likely be the last distributed optical based storage solution unless they break 2 key barries.
1 . Instant or close to write capabilities in a non deteriorating archival format.
2. being AFFORDABLE massive leaps in space - generations ahead of other technologies making it attractive.

If holographic media came out, and cheap burners could write a 500gb disc in 1 minute for 30 cents a pop... we might see those in my kiosk scenario.

RE: To the doubters out there
By retrospooty on 5/26/2009 4:11:50 PM , Rating: 2
"Flash storage isn't meant to replace optical media."

It can if adopted to do so. Imagine an SD card with a high def movie and all the extra's on it. Now think shipping, handling, distribution and storage costs. Eventually it will be faster and cheaper. It's almost an inevitability to be the next media standard.

The only possible thing stopping that from happening is the likelyhood for online content to be the main source for media. Either way Blue Ray's days are numbered before it even fully takes off.

RE: To the doubters out there
By sxr7171 on 5/26/2009 11:55:43 PM , Rating: 2
Uh yeah in like 6 years 32GB Flash will be $1. So I guess 8 years isn't enough for an optical format to take off in your book.

RE: To the doubters out there
By swizeus on 5/26/2009 8:10:16 PM , Rating: 2
just can't imagine, we buy a game title that comes with a 4GB storage flash disk....

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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