SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dell, Intel and
Microsoft agreed to work on a standard
for NAND flash module controllers that
the trio expects will help expand the
flash memory in notebooks and
desktops. Separately, Intel is beginning
to explore the possibilities for using
flash modules in servers.
The three companies agreed to form
the Non-Volatile Memory Host
Controller Interface (NVMHCI)
working group, chaired by Intel. The
group will draft by the end of the year
a software interface linking a PC and
its operating system to a flash module
The effort essentially aims to turn
into an open standard work Intel did
designing its so-called Turbo Memory
cards now being used in some notebook
computers based on the Intel Santa Rosa
platform. Intel developed the hardware
controller, module and software drivers
for the 1-2 Gbyte modules as part of its
Robson program, and now wants to open
that work up so other companies can
develop the modules and Microsoft can
support them natively in Windows.
The Turbo memory cards are used as a
cache memory to speed up booting a
system and loading applications. In
addition, the cards save power by
reducing the amount of time a notebook
needs to spin up a hard disk.
As the effort gains traction, Intel
expects the modules will be used in a
broader range of notebooks and
eventually appear in desktops as well.
Intel and others are also working on new
uses for the cards, including reducing
the time to load a
computer game or a new game level or
consolidating the use of flash across a
"There's a whole road map of things
we want to do," said Rick Coulson,
director of I/O Architecture at Intel.
Most of the new uses mapped out by Intel
and PC makers are still considered
confidential, he added.
"We're very bullish about flash in
the platform. As it matures people will
find new uses for it," said Knut
Grimsrud a senior principal engineer in
Intel's storage technologies group.
"This starts in notebooks because that's
where there is the most value in power
savings, but there are performance
benefits available for all platforms,"
"Nonvolatile memory solutions enable
better system performance and lower
power consumption as well as facilitate
additional benefits such as smaller form
factors, quieter systems and improved
robustness," said Liam Quinn, director
of communications for technology
strategy and architecture at Dell,
speaking in a prepared statement.
The NVMHCI group announced May 30
will essentially develop a
register-level host controller interface
for flash modules, in line with similar
PC interfaces used for USB and Serial
ATA interfaces. Modules and
chip sets using the standard could
emerge by the end of 2008 or early2009,
The controller specification is one
part of what engineers will need to
build a standard flash module for PCs.
Separately, Intel has been working with
memory chip and module makers on the
Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI).
A first version of the
ONFI spec was released to members
late in December. It basically sets
conventions around variations in flash
chip interfaces used by multiple chip
makers. Hynix, Intel, Micron and ST
Microelectronics are members of the
group and are expected to release flash
chips using the standard, but no
compliant products have been announced
The group is now working on a more
ambitious ONFI version 2.0. It aims to
at least triple the current 40 Mbyte/second
data rate of the interface and add an
abstraction module to isolate software
from how flash chips manage bad blocks.
It will also define a physical
specification and connector for PC flash
The ONFI 2.0 effort will also be
finished before the end of the year,
At the recent Windows Hardware
Engineering Conference, Intel got
interest from OEMs in a version of the
flash modules tailored for servers, said
Coulson. The company is now gathering
requirements for such modules.
"Right now we are focusing on clients
needs and we think we know what they
are," said Coulson. "We are interested
in doing things for the enterprise, but
it is still early days," he added.