If you had asked me back in 2008 who I thought would be leading the SSD industry in 2013 I would’ve said Intel, Western Digital and Seagate. Intel because of its commanding early lead in the market, and WD/Seagate because as the leaders in hard drives they couldn’t afford to be absent from the long term transition to SSDs. The days of having to explain why SSDs are better than mechanical drives are thankfully well behind us, now it’s just a question of predicting the inevitable. I figured that the hard drive vendors would see the same future and quickly try to establish a foothold in the SSD market. It turns out I’m really bad at predicting things.

Like most converging markets (in this case, storage + NAND), the SSD industry hasn’t been dominated by players in the market that came before it. Instead, SSDs attracted newcomers to the client/enterprise storage business. Not unlike DRAM, owning a NAND foundry has its benefits when building a profitable SSD business. It’s no surprise that Intel, Micron and Samsung are some of the more frequently discussed SSD vendors - all of them own (either partially or fully) NAND foundries.

Whether or not ownership in a foundry will be a requirement for building a sustainable SSD business is still unclear, but until that question gets answered there’s room for everyone to play in the quickly growing SSD market. This year, Seagate re-enters the SSD market with a serious portfolio. Today it not only announces two 2.5” SATA drives, including its first client-focused SSD, but also a 2.5” SAS product and a PCIe SSD solution.

The products that we’re focusing on today are the two 2.5” SATA drives: Seagate’s 600 and 600 Pro.

Architecture

The 600 and 600 Pro are both based on Link A Media Device’s LM87800 controller. The LAMD controller is the same as the one used in Corsair’s Neutron and Neutron GTX. Previous Seagate SSDs actually used a two-chip solution, with Seagate’s custom silicon controlling the host interface while Link A Media provided a NAND interface chip. The LM87800 is apparently a single chip integration of the earlier Seagate designs. The controller uses the drive chassis for cooling, with a thermal pad acting as an interface layer.

The firmware on the 600/600 Pro is unique to Seagate. It’s unclear whether or not Seagate has access to firmware source, but the solution is definitely custom (as you’ll see from the performance/consistency results). The LM87800 doesn't use any data de-duplication/compression and allegedly uses a DSP-like architecture.

The controller is paired with two DDR2-800 devices, with roughly 1MB of DRAM per GB of NAND storage. The high ratio of DRAM to NAND is common in drives with flat indirection tablets as we’ve come to notice. It’s a more costly (and potentially more power hungry) design decision, but one that can have tangible benefits as far as performance consistency is concerned.

Seagate 600 NAND/DRAM Configuration
  # of NAND Packages # of Die per Package Total NAND on-board DRAM
480GB 8 8 512GB 512MB
240GB 8 4 256GB 256MB
120GB 8 2 128GB 128MB

The LM87800 controller is a bit dated by modern standards, especially if we look at what is possible with Crucial’s M500. There’s no hardware encryption support and obviously no eDrive certification. Despite launching in 2013, the 600/600 Pro feature a controller that is distinctly 2012. Admittedly, that seems to be the case with most SSD makers these days. Everyone seems to be waiting for the transition to SATA Express before launching truly new controller designs.

Seagate has deals in place to secure NAND supply from both Samsung and Toshiba, although all of the 600 series will show up with 19nm Toshiba 2-bit-per-cell MLC NAND. The LM87800 controller features 8 NAND channels, and can access even more NAND die in parallel through interleaving.

 

The Seagate 600 & 600 Pro
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  • StealthGhost - Wednesday, May 08, 2013 - link

    To me it was always just that HDDs are vastly different than SSDs. Making SSDs when you make HDDs is like starting from scratch almost. That is why the most random companies are making SSDs, because they made flash storage before. Corsair, OCZ, Crucial harddrives? I've owned RAM from all 3 but never a harddrive, but it makes sense for them to side step over from RAM to SSD, not so much for WD to go all the way down and then back up over to SSD.

    I hope WD becomes a big name in SSDs though, I have 5 WD harddrives that I can think of off the top of my head and one is from 2003. As you can tell, they're my favorite HDD manufacturer.
    Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, May 12, 2013 - link

    Cactusdog, "I don't understand why Seagate and WD were so slow in the SSD market."

    Because they didn't want to destroy their reputations with a the shenanigans that was going on in the first couple gens of SSDs. They wisely waited until the tech was mature so that their multibillion dollar reputations wouldn't go down the drain.
    Reply
  • Tams80 - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    Same. I think around 500GB is the minimum I'd prepared to go with (for a laptop/mobile computer). They are still a bit too pricey and from my experience the hybrid drives, while good, aren't really worth it. 1TB would be great, but that will probably require waiting a few years.

    The 840 Pro looks to still be the best, but yes, it's still far too expensive for me. =(
    Reply
  • klmccaughey - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    The 240GB non Pro 840 is pretty good unless you are doing a lot of writing - very well priced.

    I have a 2TB HD and a 256GB Steam drive. With Steam Tool / or caching software that is plenty. My C drive is 2 x 128GB Vertex 3's in Raid 0.

    Don't wait to switch! Just get what you can and add more when you can - you will never look back :)
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    Yeah.. just make smart use of the space you've got and you should be able to get by with much smaller SSDs than 500 GB. Personally using 64 GB to cache my 3 TB HDD - fast enough for me :) Reply
  • phillyry - Sunday, May 12, 2013 - link

    The OP is talking about a mobile computer (laptop), not a desktop solution where you can have additional hard drives. Reply
  • creed3020 - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    Seagate may be late to the game but wow what an entrance! Going with the LM87800 almost guaranteed a strong performer as we already know from the Corsair Neutron's history. Their own special sauce added to the firmware shows that they are taking this market seriously.

    The HDD manufacturers, glorious duopoly and all, need to see the writing on the wall and get some products into this market vertical. There will be a need for spinning platters for years to come still as 4TB SSDs are still a good ways out.

    I'm currently on the fence for a Samsung 840 500GB but this announcement I need to wait and see how the reliability on these drives pans out as this may be the better choice.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, May 08, 2013 - link

    MLC drives are generally going to be more reliable than TLC drives, unless you're dealing with firmware bugs (like the horribly buggy 1st generation Sandforce controller in the Vertex 2e) Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, May 08, 2013 - link

    "Seagate may be late to the game but wow what an entrance!"

    To me this is in the interesting point. Presumably Seagate are interested in surviving for more than the next five years. Which means they have to be in the broadly defined storage business, not just the HD business. Which in turn means: raises the question --- presumably they want to be the equivalent in the flash business of their role in the HD business?

    What would that take? If they were doing it seriously, it would take
    (a) own the controller. It seems they already own the firmware. Perhaps they don't care much about the LAMD/Hynix link because the next step is to design their own controller?
    (b) fab the flash. Until they do that, as has been said, they're just one of a dozen assemblers. Of course fabbing flash is not a completely trivial business to get into... So --- buy Hynix (or someone else)? Or not the whole company, but at least the flash division? I suspect we will see something like this.

    If they DO own the firmware, the chip, and the flash, they are at least in a rather better position.
    They can start to apply real engineering to these devices in a way we haven't yet seen, most obviously in much better power performance, both idle power and peak random writes power. There may also be scope for other innovations once you own the entire pipeline, for example you can tweak the flash being fabbed for a more precise set of specs, or you can drive it to tend to certain (known) failure modes which your firmware is set up to work around.
    Reply
  • JellyRoll - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    Corsair recently released new versions of the Neutrons with a die shrink, are these Neutrons compared in the article with the new NAND? Reply

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