Capacities and Hella Overprovisioning

SandForce’s attention is focused on the enterprise, which makes sense given that’s where the money is. As a result, its drives are aimed at enterprise capacity points. The first products you’ll see based on SandForce will be 50, 100, 200 and 400GB capacity points. That’s in GB, in terms of user space it’s 46.6 GiB, 93.1GiB, 186.3GiB and 372.5GiB.

On top of the ~7% spare area you get from the GB to GiB conversion, SandForce specifies an additional 20% flash be set aside for spare area. The table below sums up the relationship between total flash, advertised capacity and user capacity on these four drives:

Advertised Capacity Total Flash User Space
50GB 64GB 46.6GB
100GB 128GB 93.1GB
200GB 256GB 186.3GB
400GB 512GB 372.5GB

 

This is more spare area than even Intel sets aside on its enterprise X25-E drive. It makes sense when you consider that SandForce does have to store more data in its spare area (all of that DuraWrite and RAISE redundancy stuff).

Dedicating almost a third of the flash capacity to spare area is bound to improve performance, but also seriously screw up costs. That doesn’t really matter for the enterprise market (who’s going to complain about a $1500 drive vs. a $1000 drive?), but for the client space it’s a much bigger problem. Desktop and notebook buyers are much more price sensitive. This is where SandForce’s partners will need to use cheaper/lower grade NAND flash to stay competitive, at least in the client space. Let’s hope SandForce’s redundancy and error correction technology actually works.

There’s another solution for client drives. We’re getting these odd capacity points today because the majority of SF’s work was on enterprise technology, the client version of the firmware with less spare area is just further behind. We’ll eventually see 60GB, 120GB, 240GB and 480GB drives. Consult the helpful table below for the lowdown:

Advertised Capacity Total Flash User Space
60GB 64GB 55.9GB
120GB 128GB 111.8GB
240GB 256GB 223.5GB
480GB 512GB 447.0GB

 

That’s nearly 13% spare area on a consumer drive! Almost twice what Intel sets aside. SandForce believes this is the unavoidable direction all SSDs are headed in. Intel would definitely benefit from nearly twice the spare area, but how much more you willing to pay for a faster SSD? It would seem that SandForce’s conclusion only works if you can lower the cost of flash (possibly by going with cheaper NAND).

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