Gigabyte Brings Solid State Storage to the Mainstream

In an effort to differentiate themselves from other motherboard manufacturers, Gigabyte has introduced a number of interesting add-ons for their motherboards, the most interesting of which is their $50 RAMDISK PCI card.

The card is a regular 32-bit PCI card that features four standard DIMM slots on board.  The card also features a custom Gigabyte FPGA that is programmed to act as a SATA to DDR translator, which convinces the SATA controller you connect the card to that the memory you have on that card is no different than a regular SATA HDD.  As long as you have memory on the card, the card will be available at POST as an actual SATA drive, with no additional drivers necessary. 


The Custom Gigabyte FPGA

The card is powered via the PCI slot, but RAM is volatile and thus if no power is provided to the card then all of the data is lost.  In order to make this solution more realistic for real-world usage, Gigabyte outfitted the card with a rechargeable battery pack that can keep the memory powered and data intact for up to 16 hours with no power.  After that 16 hours is up, your data is lost, but as soon as you apply power to the card again the battery pack will begin to recharge. 


The Battery Pack and SATA connector. You connect a SATA cable from this port to the SATA controller on your motherboard and the RAMDISK will be treated as a hard drive.

Given that the card offers no real backup other than the battery it’s not really suitable for extremely sensitive data, but it works well if your system is on all the time.  Obviously the biggest benefit of using DDR memory as storage is that all accesses occur in nanoseconds, not milliseconds and is thus much faster at random accesses than regular hard drives. Transfer rates are also improved, but you're limited by the bandwidth of the SATA interface so DDR200 memory is the fastest that is supported.

It is an interesting step for Gigabyte, and we’d like to see how the technology evolves over time. 

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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    justly

    For the most part, SiS chipsets are relegated to ultra low end solutions by motherboard manufacturers. There are times when SiS solutions are better suited for the enthusiast market, and whenever we do come across those chipsets we always present them to you all as best as possible (e.g. http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=2301).

    There are always diamonds in the rough, and when we find them we do our best to present them. But when it comes to performance and solid drivers, it is really tough to beat the high end chipset makers right now - mainly Intel and NVIDIA (and potentially ATI).

    That being said, I am working on a piece that will shed light on how the motherboard manufacturers and motherboard market view all of the chipset makers - you may be in for a bit of a surprise. More and more, ULi is looking like they may be the best kept secret of Taiwan. But more on that later :)

    I'll pass on the positive comments about Gigabyte's solution on to the Gigabyte team here in Taiwan, I'm sure they'd love to hear it.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    ramdrive looks sweet Reply
  • justly - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    42 - don't take this wrong, but if SiS, ULi (or any other chipset for that matter) is so "inferior in several areas of performance" then why do many articles (including Anandtechs) not make it clear that SiS (or any other chipset for that matter) have such limitations? I realize that SiS is not supirior in every aspect but when ever I see any article author confronted about chipsets (other than NVIDIA or Intel, and not just at Anandtech either) they all seem to throw off an aditude that "I know more than you" yet fail to give sound answers or links/proof of what they say. I for one can think for myself (I don't need to ask forum members to critique or pick out parts for my needs, I don't think most of them could since I am not a gamer) but I need the information to make a informed decission, and to put it bluntly your statement "inferior in several areas of performance" does not provide me with the information I need. If anything your answer just makes me more belligerent. Reply
  • Googer - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    Corretion:

    Also Hopefuly gigabyte will release a motherboard just for this SSD drive. A motherboard that has one PCI slot that always recives power and remains powerd on at all times even when the PC is off, just for the support of this card only. Also it would be needed to have a bios option that would be able to turn this feature on or off, so that people who don't own one of these SSD's do not have a constantly powerd PCI slot when the pc is off.
    Reply
  • Googer - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    Also Hopefuly gigabyte will release a motherboard just for this one that has one PCI slot that remains powerd on at all times even when the PC is off, just for the support of this card only. Also it would be needed to have a bios option that would be able to turn this feature on or off, so that people who don't own one of these does not have a constantly powerd PCI slot. Reply
  • Googer - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    The one advantage that the Cenetek Rocket Drive has over the gigabyte solution is the ability to recive power through an AC adapter that can be plugged in to the back of a nice BIG UPS. Reply
  • erwos - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    I'm surprised Gigabyte didn't put a standard four-plug on the RAM board. That would allow for power during the time the computer was off (provided the PSU was receiving power).

    My guess is that it's intended for web servers, which have huge amounts of random accesses, but a reasonably low storage requirement. It would also be good for huge databases.

    There's also the possibility of tossing a few of them into a RAID 5, with initial sync off a hard drive. That would quite handily alleviate storage requirements.
    Reply
  • flatblastard - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    Hmm...just remove the battery back-up from that ramdisk, and now you have yourself a drive that can store sensitive (illegal) data without much risk. You'd just need to be there to shut down the computer, or make it so the wrong keystrokes automatically shut it down when your not there. Back in my yonger days, I used ramdrive.sys for password cracking/encryption stuff all the time. Of course, that's back when 64MB of RAM was unheard of. Just an idea... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    30 - When actual tests back up the feeling that SiS chipsets (and ULi) are inferior in several areas of performance, such statements are not biased. There are many instances where SiS chipsets work fine, but to pretend that they are the equal of Intel is bias in the other direction.

    The real problem with that design is the cost of the upgrade boards. $50? There are cheap SiS-based boards for only slightly more than that. You deactivate the 775 socket and onboard memory in order to use the daughter card, so if you already had the board working, you now have at the very least an extra CPU sitting around. You also drop from four DIMM slots to two.

    It's an interesting idea if you could make it work with the onboard RAM and sell the upgrade boards for much less than $50. At least, that's my opinion.
    Reply
  • flatblastard - Monday, May 30, 2005 - link

    #40 Christmas if yur lucky. Reply

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