Marvell Introduces Hybrid SSD, HDD Storage Controller at CES 2011

Marvell's SATA storage controller supports hybrid storage by combining solid-state drives for a performance boost and hard disk drives for high capacity storage.

Marvell showed off a hybrid storage controller that allows users to combine solid-state drives with hard disk drives into a single storage pool at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 5.

The storage hybrid, based on the company's HyperDuo embedded processor technology, is designed to bring the SSD benefits-performance and durability-to desktops and other electronic devices, Marvell said. The 88SE9130 controller enables SSD-like performance while allowing all data to be stored on a traditional SATA disk, the company said.

Despite the performance boost, SSDs tend to have smaller storage capacity and cost more than hard disk drives so the devices have not made a lot of headway into typical desktop PC designs.

In a hybrid system, flash memory is used to accelerate data transfer and caching while the hard disk is employed as a pure high-capacity storage device. While long discussed within the storage industry, available hybrid storage products are scarce. Seagate Technology's Momentus XT drive is one of the few, with 4GB of SATA memory and a large 32GB cache. Adaptive memory technology on the Momentus XT figures out which application and file is used most frequently, and caches it for faster access.

Marvell's solution combines the flash and hard disk drive controller functions into a single SATA 6G-bps SATA interface controller. Unlike Seagate, Marvell decided HyperDuo will allow any size of supported drives; the total storage is flexible. However, only one flash disk is supported at this time.

Unlike other companies, Marvell's approach does not depend on any operating system and embeds the flash management hardware in the SATA controller. OCZ Technology's RevoDrive product is operating system dependent.

HyperDuo handles automated tiering, as it brings the cached data to the SSD when needed.

There are two modes for the controller: Capacity and Safe. Desktops with the 88SE9130 6G-bps SATA storage controller installed in Capacity Mode with an SSD and HD will actually see a single, virtual SATA storage disk with all the storage capacity pooled together for the maximum size, Marvell said. Under testing conditions, the hard disk achieved up to 80 percent of the high-speed SATA SSD's performance, Marvell said. Under Safe Mode, all data is replicated on the SSD and the hard disk in case of catastrophic disk failure.

According to Marvell, Gigabyte, Asus, MSI and ASRock have already agreed to add the controller chip to their motherboards. MSI is expected to use the HyperDuo chip on its high-end motherboards for Intel's Sandy Bridge processors. The controllers will also support Micron SSDs and hard disks from both Seagate and Western Digital. The chips can come mounted on the motherboard or be installed with an add-on card, the company said.

While the target markets are desktop motherboards, the company is also considering other applications for the controller, such as in the home cloud market with network-attached-storage devices, digital video recorders and set-top boxes, Daniel Yoo, a Marvell spokesperson, told eWEEK.

Sample motherboards and chips are expected later this quarter, and production is expected to start before April. Actual products should begin arriving in the second half of 2011, depending on how evaluations go, Marvell said. While exact pricing was not available, Yoo said it was expected to be less than "two times premium" over a non-HyperDuo 6G SATA controller.