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Samsung PCIe 4 ‘Never Die’ SSDs: Machine Learning, Built-in Virtualization Support

ExtremeTech

Samsung has announced new PCIe 4.0 SSDs, with a trio of new, baked-in technologies that could represent a significant improvement for drive features and reliability. The company is debuting 19 models based on the PM1733 and PM1735, with transfer speeds of up to 8,000MB/s.

According to Samsung, both of these drive controllers include new fail-in-place (FIP) technology. The company claims this is a true milestone in storage technology “by ensuring that SSDs maintain normal operation even when errors occur at the chip level, enabling a never-dying SSD for the first time in the industry.” SSDs outfitted with FIP software can detect faulty chips before they fail, scan for any data in the damaged sectors, and relocate that data into other chips. Samsung cites the example of a 30.72TB SSD with 512 NAND chips detecting an error and moving data out of these sectors before problems can occur.

Next up, the company’s new virtualization technology. SSDs can now be subdivided into smaller drives (up to 64 per physical SSD) and allocated for independent, virtual workstations. This new virtualization implementation allows the drive to take over functions like single-root I/O virtualization from the host CPU.

Finally, Samsung claims to have implemented machine-learning tools to predict cell characteristics and detect variation in its circuit patterns through big data analysis. According to the company, this improved level of error control and analysis is required by the increasing layers of 3D NAND (we’re up to over 100) and the move from three-bit to four-bit cells. The implication of this phrase is that these new PCIe 4.0 products are TLC and QLC-derived, not MLC. Other manufacturers have been bringing up QLC as well or are already shipping it to customers.

The two drive families in question are based on the PM1733 and PM1735 controllers and will be available in a variety of form factors and mounts. The U.2 drives are capable of 6.4GB/s and 3.8GB/s, while the HHHL card-type drives are capable of 8.0GB/s and 3.8GB/s. Exact specs were not provided for various drives beyond the chart shown above. Drive endurance is defined as being either 1 drive write per day (DWPD) or 3, for a five year period in both cases.

For now, PCIe 4.0 is a feature that’s only available on AMD systems as far as the traditional x86 market is concerned. These drives will still work on Intel systems at reduced speeds, of course, and none of the additional features that Samsung has added appear to be tied to PCIe 4.0, which means they’ll all work equally well on Intel servers. As you may have guessed from the size capacities and references to virtualization, these drives are explicitly intended for the enterprise and server markets — though we’re curious about how long it’ll be before the AI and possibly the never-dying capabilities start to show up in consumer products as well. If AI can be used to reduce variability and improve yield we’ll likely see it across both enterprise and consumer products given enough time. Other capabilities, like the ability to divide the drive into 64 virtualized sub-drives, are likely to stay in the enterprise segment.

I should note that we also have questions about ‘Never dying’ SSDs and would really like to see additional materials on how this technology works, when it works, and how much additional protection it practically offers. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn’t seem to have written any publicly available materials on the topic.

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September 20th 2019, 9:36 am
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