Why Integration Matters
What Samsung’s Vertical Integration Means to You
The three most crucial components of any SSD are the NAND flash memory, the controller, and the firmware. The first does the critical task of storing your precious data; the second two work together to accomplish the complex and equally essential tasks of managing data storage and maintaining the performance and lifespan of the SSD. Using the control program contained in the drive firmware, the controller (an embedded microchip) executes automated signal processing, wear-leveling, Error Correcting Code (ECC), bad block management, and garbage collection algorithms, communicates with the host device (e.g. a PC), and facilitates data encryption, among other tasks. Redundantly stored in NAND flash, the firmware may be updated manually to improve or extend functionality when the SSD manufacturer releases an update.
The NAND flash itself is a kind of digital repository, while the controller functions as the command center for everything the SSD does – from actually reading and writing data to executing the Garbage Collection and wear- leveling algorithms that keep the drive clean and speedy. Thus, the firmware, which drives the controller, is arguably the most important component of a good SSD because it delivers the largest difference among branded SSDs in terms of performance, reliability, and endurance (lifespan). Developing good firmware requires precise engineering skills and painstaking integration among the NAND flash, controller, DRAM and other SSD components. Intimate knowledge of NAND characteristics, semiconductor process technologies, and controller characteristics must go hand-in-hand.
Samsung represents one of the few manufacturers that designs all of these components in-house; and, among those who do, Samsung enjoys the most experience (with over 6 years as the number one supplier in the preinstalled SSD market).
In-House, Proprietary Firmware
Driving the controller and pulling everything together is the SSD’s firmware. The more control a vendor has over the firmware, the more precise and effective the total package. Samsung is not obligated to use off-the-shelf firmware like many of its competitors, allowing it to design its own unique performance profile and execute more robust reliability and bug testing. In fact, customers may notice that Samsung releases very few firmware updates. This is a testament to the quality of the original testing procedures and the superiority of the firmware code – fewer problems to fix is a good thing.
In the rare case that Samsung does issue a firmware update, SSD Magician makes it easy to upgrade your SSD. Magician will notify you of any available updates, and most updates can be completed right within the software itself. When a DOS-based firmware update is required, the Magician software will walk you through the creation of a bootable USB drive or CD/DVD, eliminating much of the confusion surrounding the process.
Stability and upgradeability are only part of the story, however. Being the sole steward of its firmware means Samsung can draft customized garbage collection and wear-leveling algorithms, which have a direct effect on SSD endurance (or lifetime). Because of some of the underlying design limitations of NAND memory, a write to an SSD is not as simple as placing data in a storage location. Rather, the SSD is constantly monitoring the use of each individual cell, ensuring that each one is written to an even number of times to prevent uneven wear and, consequently, premature drive failure. This process is called “wear-leveling.” In tandem, because SSDs cannot overwrite old data without first erasing it, the controller is also preemptively preparing “free blocks” of space to save time when a write request arrives, a process that also requires the moving and re-writing of data. Thus, the SSD is constantly moving around data and a simple write procedure is not a “one-to-one” operation. Since each cell can only endure a certain number of read/ write cycles, the efficiency and effectiveness of the wear-leveling and garbage collection algorithms directly affect the endurance of the drive. There is no room to waste precious read/write cycles with unnecessary reads or writes – the more efficient the maintenance algorithms, the longer the SSD will last. Only a company like Samsung, with complete control of both the NAND and the controller/firmware combination, can squeeze out every last bit of efficiency to maximize both SSD performance and endurance.
If you are interested in learning more about the jobs SSD maintenance algorithms are responsible for, please refer to the separate “SSD Maintenance” paper.
Having full control over the NAND, controller and firmware has major implications both for performance and reliability. Samsung has intimate knowledge of every nuance of these components and can tweak them along each step in the development process to ensure that they work perfectly together. Generic SSD controllers have to worry about supporting multiple NAND specifications (from varying manufacturers who each have different manufacturing processes), while Samsung’s proprietary SSD controller is engineered solely to work with its own NAND – which means engineers can focus all of their efforts towards one common specification.
As the most-integrated SSD manufacturer in the industry, Samsung controls all of the most crucial design elements of an SSD: NAND, Controller, DRAM, and Firmware. Working together, these components are responsible for a crucial task – storing and protecting your precious data. When it comes to SSDs, no one knows more about building a high- performance, reliable drive than Samsung.