Introducing the LAMD Amber controller
Introducing the Link A Media Amber controller
While details about Link-A premier controller are sparse, the LM87800 ‘Amber’ is a Dual ARM, SATA 6Gb/s enabled chip that is part of the FlashLink 2 SSD platform. Being a dual core architecture gives the Amber controller much more flexibility and adaptability over older single core designs. One core can be designated for handling host I/O requests while the second core can simultaneously be utilized for low level tasks such as emergency block erasure, garbage collection tasks or even mapping LBAs to Flash blocks.
Like most modern designs, the LM878000 uses an eight channel layout which can handle up to 4 chip enables per channel for a maximum of 32 NAND layers. This coupled with its support for both ONFi and Toggle mode NAND specifications as well as SLC, MLC, eMLC NAND types gives manufactures a lot of leeway in designing a drive around the Amber controller. It is unclear on whether or not TLC or Tri-Level Cell NAND is supported but in all likelihood if it is not this can be added via firmware updates if the need arises.
Further helping to give manufactures more customization options, LAMD have opted to allow for variable over-provisioning. In the case of the Neutron series, Corsair has opted for about 13% or the same as what most SF2281 drives come equipped with. Much like SandForce, this spare area can be used for everything from bad block replacement to garbage collection. It also allows for more consistent long term performance as the controller will always have access to free blocks to use for wear leveling.
Also like SandForce’s SF2281 controller, the LM87800 makes use of auto-encryption with AES 128/256 support, but it is up to the individual client on whether or not to enable this enterprise-centric feature. Corsair has opted to leave the AES encryption routines off as they are not required for the average home user or enthusiast and would have incurred a certain amount of performance loss from the increased overhead.
Link A’s LM87800 uses advanced techniques called EBoost Technology to significantly enhance NAND Flash endurance. Although Link A Media are stingy on the specifics of how Eboost goes about accomplishing its tasks, it seems to use proprietary signal processing algorithms to increase NAND lifespan while decreasing wear and tear on the NAND cells.
While Eboost and some other features bear a striking resemblance to those included in SandForce controllers, the Amber isn’t a copycat controller. It does some very basic things in radically different ways. The biggest difference is the fact that this controller doesn’t do any compression on the data before writing to the NAND. While Link A states emphatically that their new controller has low write amplification, they don’t explain exactly what the write amplification is beyond being ‘low’. In all likelihood it is higher than SandForce’s .6x, but Corsair is so sure of this controller’s abilities that - unlike the Force GS three year warranty- both the Neutron and Neutron GTX will come with a five year standard warranty.
By not first compressing the data, Link A’s Amber boasts equally good performance for both compressible and incompressible data types. This is significant to consumers used to SandForce drives which have a rather large performance penalty when dealing with already compressed data such as MP3s or video.
When taken as a whole the Amber LM87800 seems to be a capable high performance controller that’s more adaptable than its competitors.
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