SATA Express ports are popping up on new Intel motherboards, but apart from an Asus prototype, we haven't seen any drives based on the standard. That could change at Computex, where Marvell plans to show off a new SSD controller designed specifically for the SATAe interface. The company claims this chip will enable SSD makers to build PCIe drives that are price-competitive with their SATA counterparts.
The 88SS1083 controller's name may be an awkward mess of numbers and letters, but it's fast, with dual lanes of PCIe Gen2 connectivity that yield 1GB/s of bidirectional bandwidth. This dual-lane link is a perfect match for the dedicated storage lanes built into Intel's 9 Series chipset. It also supports SRIS, otherwise known as Separate Refclock with Independent SSC (Spread-Spectrum Clocking), which uses a drive-based clock generator instead of passing PCIe synchronization signals over the SATAe cable. SRIS lowers cabling costs for drive makers, and it's supported by all the Z97 motherboards we've tested thus far.
Marvell hasn't revealed the number of parallel NAND channels in the controller. However, the press release touting the chip indicates that it works with flash technologies as fine as 15 nm. The controller is compatible with the Toggle DDR 2 and ONFI 3 standards, enabling per-die transfer rates up to 400 MT/s. It also supports DevSleep and PCIe's L1.2 low-power mode.
We've asked Marvell to clarify a few details about the controller and will update this story when we get a response. It could be a while before we see retail-ready drives based on the chip, though. Marvell says the controller is sampling to customers now, but mass production isn't scheduled until the fourth quarter. The first Marvell-powered SATAe SSDs may not arrive until late this year or early next.