SandForce improves SSD encryption, power management

LSI's SandForce division doesn't have a new SSD controller to show off at the Computex trade show this year. It does, however, have a couple of enhancements designed to improve the encryption and power efficiency of its current technology.

SandForce controller silicon has long incorporated on-the-fly encryption to scramble bits stored on the drive. Thanks to a new firmware revision, that encryption is now compatible with the TCG Opal specification. Opal compatibility enables SandForce-based SSDs to work with security management software from Wave and WinMagic. The new encryption mojo may also play nicely with Windows 8's eDrive feature, although SandForce couldn't confirm whether that's the case. We're waiting to hear back from the firm on that matter.

Kingston, Adata, and Avant are working with SandForce to bring Opal-compatible SSDs to market. Other drive makers will have access to the firmware, as well, but it's unclear if we'll see updates for existing SSDs. Like real-time encryption in general, Opal compatibility is more important to businesses than it is to the average consumer—or enthusiast.

On the power front, SandForce has added support for the DevSleep idle state required by Haswell Ultrabooks. This low-power state is necessary for Win8's connected standby mode, SandForce says, and it cuts idle power draw dramatically. SandForce's old slumber state draws 20 mA, but DevSleep gets by with just 0.05 mA. Thanks to Joule's Law, the 400X reduction in current produces an equivalent drop in power consumption.

Mobile systems that take advantage of DevSleep should enjoy longer battery life in standby mode. Existing SSDs can't be updated to support the feature, though. DevSleep doesn't entail controller-level changes, but it does repurpose one of the pins associated with the Serial ATA interface. That modification requires a updated board design even though the basic components remain unchanged.

Intel has made a concerted effort to lower the power consumption of complementary PC components, and DevSleep looks like one of the payoffs. SandForce claims this feature can help Haswell-powered devices run in standby mode for nearly two weeks, which is a huge improvement over existing mobile PCs.

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