Rumors are rampant that Apple intends to acquire privately-held Israeli Anobit, an SSD controller maker. Articles The SSD Guy read about this appeared today in PC Magazine, EE Times, Forbes, and even the Washington Post.
While Objective Analysis may have nothing to say about these rumors, we can give some reasons why this might be a good move.
Anobit, a young company that won the “Best of Show” award from the 2010 Flash Memory Summit, based on its flash memory controllers for SSDs. The company’s product goes beyond the standard for flash controllers, not only using advanced techniques for the error correction whose importance is growing with each new generation of NAND flash, but also tapping into proprietary knowledge about how the flash chips work internally, which is information only available through a very intimate relatioship with the NAND flash chipmakers themselves.
Anobit is able to do this because many of those flash makers are Anobit customers.
At a demonstration at the Flash Memory Summit Anobit showed the difference between its controller and a controller with 24-bit error correction, which is understood to be pretty advanced. The demonstration used a NAND flash chip with pretty horrid behavior – a 3-bit per cell chip that started to lose data at fewer than 300 erase-write cycles. Anobit wrote and erased each block in the flash a different number of times – the first block got one erase-write, the second two, and so on.
The demonstration stepped one-by-one through these blocks, all of which contained the same photograph. At around 500 erase-writes the standard 24-bit error correction stopped being able to recover the picture, but the Anobit-corrected picture stayed intact for more than an order of magnitude more cycles, indicating that this algorithm could get far more life out of a flash chip than could standard algorithms.
Why is this important to Apple? Well, as time marches on and NAND flash chips migrate to increasingly aggressive processes to reduce costs ever further, the chips become increasingly more error prone and harder to control. Flash users will be forced to use continually improving error correction schemes to be able to get their products to work at all.
Apple is becoming more and more dependent on NAND flash. Its iPods, iPads, iPhones, and even some of its computers require NAND flash. If Apple does indeed acquire a flash controller company it will be taking its destiny into its own hands, allowing Apple to procure raw NAND (the cheapest kind of NAND) at the lowest possible prices, preventing other companies from competing.
This deal may or may not happen, but if it does fall together, it should be good for both companies. Apple can use this technology, and Anobit should do quite well with the kind of resources Apple has to offer.