Apple buys flash-controller firm Anobit for $500 million


— 2:25 PM on December 21, 2011

When you've got $76 billion in the bank, you can afford to splurge on something special for the holidays. For Apple, that something special is Israeli flash-controller firm Anobit, which has been acquired for a cool $500 million—quite a bit more than the $322 million LSI paid for SandForce just a couple of months ago.

Like SandForce, Anobit is focused on extending flash endurance. It's not doing anything funky with compression or deduplication, however. Anobit has instead focused its efforts (PDF) on improving signal processing to wring more usable life out of decaying flash cells. The company employs a signal processing engine that's "comprised of hardware accelerators designed to purge NAND flash process and array impairments." This engine is coupled with error correction and a special flash translation layer that, when all working together, can purportedly increase the endurance of flash cells by a factor of 20X.

Anobit got its start with enterprise-oriented SSDs that aimed to deliver SLC-like endurance with less expensive MLC NAND. The same technology should also be capable of increasing the lifespan of TLC memory, which gives up write/erase endurance to squeeze three bits into every cell. We haven't seen much TLC NAND in the wild, but the cheaper memory type is likely to become more popular in the coming years.

Flash memory is already an integral part of Apple's media players, smartphones, tablets, and even a few MacBooks. Before long, I suspect it will be featured prominently across the company's entire range of products. When one considers the potential implications of the Anobit purchase, $500 million really does seem like a drop in the bucket.

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