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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  • justly - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    61 Jarred thanks for letting me know why you have reservations about using SiS, but can you really say that the reasons you pointed out are deal breakers for 10% or even 1% of the 115,727 users registered to Anandtech forums?
    Not providing drivers for a beta OS, complaints of long term stability of a cheaply manufactured motherboards, or a "feeling" that you have doesn't effect my choice of chipsets (no matter what brand) but if I hadn't asked about the reference to being "stuck" with a certain chipset, I might have had second thoughts (if I didn't take it upon myself to find out more).

    Believe it or not, I don't do this to persuade people to buy SiS chipsets. I do this to prevent people (including myself) from unknowingly being persuaded to avoid a potentially good chipset for their needs (I would do this for any chipset brand if I thought they where being misrepresented).
  • EODetroit - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    Hey, you guys aren't getting what I'd use that RAMDRIVE for.

    I play World of Warcraft (WoW). I like to PvP. When I run into one of the huge zerg fights, my computer stutters as it thrashes the hard drive while it loads the files into memory of all the extra players around me.

    With one (or two, since the WoW game files take up about 4.5GB) RAMDRIVE, I'll then have a batch file that copies all the game files from my hard drive to the RAMDRIVE. I run the game off the ram drive, and now every file access takes place near-instantly. I can run into a huge melee and not notice any disk accesses and while everyone else is suffering, I'm killing away.

    Actually I've already found the perfect solution, but I'm unwilling to drop $3550 on it.


    I've emailed that guy to sell it to me (a lot) cheaper but he just won't budge :/ .
  • knightwhosaysni - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    Everyone here seems to be talking performance. This seems to me much better as the basis of a silent PC with no moving parts, 2GB of OS and a Gb link to a file server. Reply
  • BigandSlimey - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    I'm no electronics engineer, but wouldn't it be easier to unplug that cable that runs from the battery pack into the pcb, modify the termination and connect that to an external power supply?

    Anand, please tell Gigabyte to put such a feature in as standard!!

    I wonder if this product can achieve the same benchmarks as the CENATEK rocket drive.

    If it does, it would certainly put CENATEK out of business considering their product is around 30 times the price :S
  • cartman - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

  • cartman - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    where can we buy the ramdisk pci? i cannot find anything about it in gigabyte's site. It would be very interesting for somebody like gigabyte to create a ramdisk that fits on a 5 1/2 bay and has pre-installed the most dirt cheap ram chips one can find! i think a 300$ 8-16gb disk is entirely feasible for a company that buys mass quantities of ram chips. add some batteries and the ability to run from the 5volts the psu provides when the pc is shut down, and you have a product that sales like hot cake! Reply
  • Viditor - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    A question for Anand...
    In the article, you state:

    "Gigabyte has introduced a number of interesting add-ons for their motherboards"

    Does this mean that the Ramdisk will be a Gigabyte-only item?
    All knowledge gratefully accepted! :-)
  • Calin - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    Level load times for games won't be too much affected by ramdrives - they are mostly processor bound, not disk bound.
    However, ramdisk for swap would be great (maybe not that great as more RAM, but more RAM has its own problems, like price, the DIMMs must match, they are high speed so they are expensive).
  • ceefka - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    Please ditch BTX and go ahead on CTX. We need lots of slots for those SSDs :-D

    Very good work with the Xilinx Spartan FPGA. These things are so useful. Nice one, Gigabyte.

    I am not sure if the PCI-slot is the best location for an SSD in the future. It looks perfect for today.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - link

    55 (justly again) - Part of the problem, at least from my perspective, is the lack of a unified installation package. NVIDIA, Intel and VIA all have chipset driver installation packages that are mature and let you know that everything is installed. SiS driver installation always leaves me feeling like I may not be getting everything.

    Performance is only part of the equation, and while SiS does keep up and surpass other chipsets in some situations, that's not the same as being better than the chipsets. How quickly did SiS get out 64-bit capable drivers? How about drivers for beta OSes like Longhorn? (I can tell you from experience that sound on many SiS boards doesn't work under Longhorn.) There's an overall package that you get with a motherboard, and the SiS boards almost always feel "less" than Intel/NVIDIA/VIA boards that I've used.

    That can change, of course, but I have yet to use an SiS solution that was as stable in long-term use as an Intel board. Was it the chipset or the cheaply made motherboard? I can't say for sure - maybe both. Anyway, for another comparison, you can look at the Foxconn e-bot in the SFF roundup I did a few months ago.

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