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Phison's new X1 controller to power Seagate SSD

Seagate continues its partnership with Phison through the release of the X1, a customizable SSD controller that promises higher performance and lower power use.

Legacy HHD vendor Seagate continues to push its way into the flash memory market thanks to its partnership with Phison and the release of a new controller touted as being more performant and energy efficient.

Phison's configurable X1 SSD controller, which offers higher read performance at a lower energy due to its design, will become part of Seagate's Nytro enterprise SSD line to increase competition with other PCIe Gen 4 SSDs on the market.

Tom Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, said companies are looking for ways to achieve the highest possible performance using the lowest amount of energy in enterprise data center applications, as well as in mobile or client applications where battery conservation has become a priority.

"[Across industries] organizations are looking to get more done for less money," Coughlin said.

He said he also sees this as a market opportunity for both companies, which have partnered for more than five years by using Phison controllers in Seagate's current line of NAS and enterprise SSDs. This latest development gives Seagate a chance to serve markets outside of HDDs and Phison more exposure.

"Seagate picks up additional business, while Phison's technology is being used and gets a share of the revenue," he said.

X1 promises performance, power savings

The improved performance comes from a different architecture, according to Sebastien Jean, CTO at Phison. The X1 uses two Arm R5 CPUs for the computational elements of the SSD and up to 32 smaller co-processors or "micro cores" that are each dedicated to only one or two tasks, retrieving data or running an application from disk. This means the X1 will swap between tasks less, saving on time and improving performance, Jean said.

Phison designed almost all the intellectual property and hardware that went into making the controller and by extension the SSD it goes in, enabling the vendor to better customize drives for customers, Jean said.

"We're designing the [controller] from the first transistor all the way up to the firmware," Jean said. "We have the ability to fully customize it and deal with any issues that come up."

The new controller and SSD are customized to handle specific workloads, including HPC workloads, Coughlin said. Phison said that while the X1, a 16-channel enterprise controller, can increase performance, it can also increase the price compared with an off-the-shelf SSD.

Coughlin noted that the X1 isn't using cutting-edge technology -- the interface is a PCIe Gen 4 when Gen 5 is around the corner, and it's a 12-nanometer product when competitors are moving onto 7 nanometer for more processing power. However, it's still a competitive product.

"The X1 is where the market is right now, not super bleeding edge, but it appears to be in the leading part of the market," Coughlin said.

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