Marvell hybrid controller meshes HDD, SSD

Marvell introduces a new storage controller designed specifically for a high-performance hybrid of a traditional hard drive and a solid state drive.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
2 min read
Marvel's new controller enables affordable hybrid combination the company says will dramatically increase a computer's storage performance.
Marvel's new controller enables an affordable hybrid combination the company says will dramatically increase a computer's storage performance. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

LAS VEGAS--You should by now have heard of Seagate's Momentus XT (if not, check out our review). It is the first mass-produced hybrid hard drive that offers some benefits of a solid-state drive (SSD) at a much lower cost and without the sacrifice of storage space.

The Momentus XT is called "hybrid" because it consists of a traditional platter-based hard drive and 4GB of flash memory, within one physical chassis. Now what if you want to create a hybrid package by combining an SSD and a traditional hard-disk drive (HDD)?

The answer is what Marvell announced today, the 88SE9130 6Gbps SATA storage controller. Marvell says this controller is powered by the company's HyperDuo embedded processor technology, which brings SSD benefits to consumer desktop motherboards and consumer electronics products.

The company claims that the 88SE9130 controller enables SSD-like performance while allowing all data to be stored on a traditional SATA HDD.

This is how it works: Your system needs to have one HDD and one SSD. The 88SE9130 uses proprietary algorithms to automatically allocate frequently accessed data files (which it calls "hot files") and directories to an SATA SSD while enabling the rest to be stored on a larger-capacity SATA HDD, similar to how the Momentus XT works within its two HDD and SSD parts.

This is also the biggest difference between Marvell's 88SE9130 storage controller and the traditional 6Gbps SATA (also known as SATA 3) that Seagate demonstrated in March 2009.

According to Marvell, its new controller has been tested and demonstrated to enable a traditional HDD to achieve up to 80 percent of the performance of a high-speed SATA SSD. If this were true, it'd make a great option for desktop computers where users can combine a low-capacity (and therefore relatively affordable) drive and a top-capacity HDD to gain much-improved performance.

Marvell says the 88SE9130 can work in two configurations: safe mode and capacity mode. Safe mode provides optimal data protection by mirroring data on the SSD to the hard disk for maximum redundancy (somewhat like a RAID 1 configuration), while capacity mode combines SSD and HDD capacity to offer the most storage space and performance (somewhat like RAID 0). In both modes, however, consumers will see the same single-drive volume (as a C: drive, for example) that they would normally see with a single hard drive.

According to Marvell, several motherboard vendors have adopted the HyperDuo technology, such as Asus, ASRock, and Gigabyte, so you can expect the use of the new controller in high-end desktop computers and storage systems relatively soon.

If you can't wait until then and happen to be in Las Vegas, Marvell is displaying its HyperDuo 88SE9130 6Gbps SATA controller here at CES 2011.