SAN JOSE, Calif. — PMC-Sierra is putting banks of DRAM around its NAND flash controller it purchased from IDT in 2013, to create a PCI Express 3.0 memory card that bucks the current tide. The Flashtec NVRAM Drive provides up to 16 Gbytes of flash-backed DRAM as an expansion of either system main memory or block storage.
The card takes a unique, albeit niche, position among today's solid-state memory cards. Most vendors use flash on PCIe as a high-performance replacement for hard drive storage; a few led by Diablo Technologies are plugging flash memory into dual-inline memory module slots.
PMC claims Flashtec cards will offer better performance than flash-based SSDs without their endurance issues. The cards will offer 10 million I/O operations per second when used as additional system memory, the company says.
At least one company has tried the approach. DDRdrive LLC launched a 4 Gbyte PCIe card in 2006. Like PMC's product it offered DRAM backed up by flash and a supercapacitor.
The DDR3 and DDR4 buses have slightly lower latency than the PCIe 3.0 bus PMC uses. However the difference is "well below the threshold of any practical application today," for use as an adjunct to main memory, a PMC-Sierra representative said in an email exchange with EE Times.
The DMA engine in PMC's controller helps offload a host processor, as much as quadrupling CPU utilization in some apps, according PMC. The cards will be available by the end of the year in 4, 8, and 16 Gbyte versions.
The card "fits well into the high-end space," Jim Handy, market watcher at Objective Analysis, tells us. "PMC's Flashtec NVRAM drive is aimed at applications where you can't get enough speed even with maxed-out DRAM and SSDs together. If you add even more DRAM to the system on the PCIe bus you can speed up this kind of system, but it's going to be a top-dollar system."
PMC launched the card at the annual Flash Memory Summit this week. Separately, Diablo will talk at the event about its approach to adding flash to the DIMM slot, an effort for which it lined up support last year from IBM.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times