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This channel features the latest computer hardware related articles.
  1. At Samsung's Tech Day event today in San Jose, the company shared their SSD roadmap for transitioning to 96-layer 3D NAND and introducing four bit per cell (QLC) NAND flash memory. Successors have been named for most of their current SSDs that use three bit per cell (TLC) NAND flash and are being updated with 96-layer 3D TLC, and new product lines using QLC NAND have been introduced.

    Taking TLC to new heights

    Most of the updates to the TLC-based SSDs are fairly straightforward NAND upgrades that use existing SSD controllers. The PM981 client NVMe SSD and the 970 EVO retail counterpart that use 64-layer 3D TLC will be succeeded by the PM981a and 970 EVO Plus respectively. Capacity options remain the same, ranging from 250GB to 2TB. The most significant performance improvements are to sequential write speeds, but the PM981a also brings significant random I/O improvements that almost catch it up to the 970 EVO and 970 EVO Plus.

    The PM983 datacenter SSD that uses the same Samsung Phoenix controller as the above client/consumer drives is being replaced by the PM983a. This update brings a doubling of capacities, now allowing for up to 16TB (presumably only on NF1 and U.2 form factors). In the datacenter, SLC write caches are not used so the advertised write speeds are significantly lower than for the client/consumer drives, but there are still significant improvements here.

    The PM971a client NVMe BGA SSD is getting a significant update in the new PM991 that roughly doubles random I/O and sequential write performance and improves sequential reads by about 50%.

    The enterprise SAS product line is not seeing any major changes to performance or available capacities, but the update from the PM1643 to the PM1643a does improve random write performance by about 20%. The largest model remains 30.72TB.

    The high-end enterprise NVMe drives are getting a major controller update that brings PCIe 4.0 support in addition to the NAND upgrade. This allows for much higher performance across the board, most notably with sequential read speeds reaching 8GB/s on the new PM1733 compared to 3.5GB/s on the PM1723b. The maximum available capacity has caught up to the SAS product line with the introduction of a 30.72TB model. The PM1733 also introduces dual-port PCIe capability to this product line, providing a migration path for SAS SSD users who require this reliability feature.

    Rolling out QLC

    Samsung's naming scheme for enterprise and OEM SSDs uses model names starting with SM for drives with MLC NAND, PM for TLC NAND, and now BM for QLC NAND. Four new QLC SSDs have been announced: the BM1733 and BM9A3 enterprise NVMe SSDs, the BM1653 enterprise SAS SSD, and the BM991 client NVMe SSD. All of these have obvious parallels with TLC-based PM-series models above, but Samsung has not yet shared detailed specifications for any of these QLC drives. Samsung also mentioned  the 860 QVO SATA and 980 QVO NVMe client drives. Since these names don't fit into Samsung's OEM SSD naming scheme, we assume these are upcoming retail products, but Samsung hasn't shared any release plans.

    Without release schedules or detailed technical specifications, it's hard to assess the state of Samsung's QLC efforts, but the sheer number of models makes it clear that Samsung sees QLC NAND as a very important part of their storage portfolio going forward.

    Samsung also mentioned that in Q2 2019 they are planning to introduce a higher-performing 512Gb QLC die to complement their current 1Tb die. Samsung compared the performance of this new 512Gb die against an unspecified competitor's 1Tb QLC, claiming that Samsung's high-performance QLC will have 37% lower read latency and 45% lower program latency. Their slides suggested that the performance differences relative to Samsung's own 1Tb part could be even larger, but Samsung did not quantify this.

    Second-Generation Z-NAND

    The first products featuring the second generation of Samsung's low-latency Z-NAND flash memory will be the SZ1733 and SZ1735, high-end enterprise NVMe SSDs that differ primarily in the amount of overprovisioning. Samsung has announced that their second generation of Z-NAND will include a MLC version, but these drives are using the SLC version. Like the TLC-based PM1733, the new Z-NAND SSDs will also feature dual-port capability and PCIe 4.0 support. Sequential reads of up to 12GB/s are claimed, but this product line is all about random I/O, which Samsung hasn't detailed yet. Samsung demoed a 4TB model, significantly larger than the 800GB maximum for the first-generation SZ985.

  2. Samsung Foundry on Wednesday said that it had started production of chips using its 7LPP manufacturing technology that uses extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUVL) for select layers. The new fabrication process will enable Samsung to significantly increase transistor density of chips while optimizing their power consumption. Furthermore, usage of EUVL allows Samsung to reduce the number of masks it requires for each chip and shrink its production cycle.

    New Tech Brings in Big Gains

    The maker of semiconductors says that 7LPP fabrication technology enables a 40% area reduction (at the same complexity) along with a 50% lower power consumption (at the same frequency and complexity) or a 20% higher performance (at the same power and complexity) when compared to 10LPE. As it appears, usage of extreme ultraviolet lithography for select layers enables Samsung Foundry to place 40% more transistors inside its next-gen SoCs and reduce their power consumption, a very compelling proposition for mobile SoCs that will be used inside future flagship smartphones.

    Advertised PPA Improvements of New Process Technologies
    Data announced by companies during conference calls, press briefings and in press releases
      14LPP
    vs 28LPP
    10LPE
    vs 14LPE
    10LPE
    vs 14LPP
    10LPP
    vs 10LPE
    10LPU
    vs
    10LPE
    7LPP
    vs 10LPE
    Power 60% 40% 30% ~15% ? 50%
    Performance 40% 27% >10% ~10% ? 20%
    Area Reduction 50% 30% 30% none ? 40%

    Samsung produces its 7LPP EUV chips at its Fab S3 in Hwaseong, South Korea. The company can process 1500 wafers a day on each of its ASML Twinscan NXE:3400B EUVL step and scan systems with a 280 W light source. Samsung does not say whether it uses pellicles that protect photomasks from degradation, but only indicates that usage of EUV enables it to cut the number of masks it requires for a chip by 20%. In addition, the company says that it had developed a proprietary EUV mask inspection tool to perform early defect detection and eliminate flaws early in the manufacturing cycle (which will likely have a positive effect on yields).

    Samsung Foundry does not disclose the name of its customers that that first to adopt its 7LPP manufacturing technology, but only implies that the first chips to use it will be aimed at mobile and HPC applications. Usually, Samsung Electronics is the first customer of the semiconductor unit to adopt its leading-edge fabrication processes. Therefore, expect a 7nm SoC inside Samsung’s high-end smartphones due in 2019. Furthermore, Qualcomm will use Samsung’s 7LPP tech for its “Snapdragon 5G mobile chipsets”.

    “With the introduction of its EUV process node, Samsung has led a quiet revolution in the semiconductor industry,” — said Charlie Bae, executive vice president of foundry sales and marketing team at Samsung Electronics. “This fundamental shift in how wafers are manufactured gives our customers the opportunity to significantly improve their products’ time to market with superior throughput, reduced layers, and better yields. We’re confident that 7LPP will be an optimal choice not only for mobile and HPC, but also for a wide range of cutting-edge applications.”

    Advanced IP and Packaging: Ready for 7LPP

    Samsung’s 7LPP manufacturing technology offers impressive advantages over the company’s 10LPE specifically for mobile SoCs. Meanwhile, in a bid to make the process attractive to a broad range of potential customers, the foundry offers a comprehensive set of design-enablement tools, interface IP (controllers and PHY), reference flows, and advanced packaging solutions. The final PDK is months away, but many customers may start development of their 7LPP SoCs even with existing set of solutions.

    At this point 7LPP is supported by numerous Samsung Advanced Foundry Ecosystem (SAFE) partners, including Ansys, Arm, Cadence, Mentor, SEMCO, Synopsys, and VeriSilicon. Among other things, Samsung and the said companies offer such interface IP solutions HBM2/2E, GDDR6, DDR5, USB 3.1, PCIe 5.0, and 112G SerDes. Therefore, developers of chips of SoCs due in 2021 and onwards, which will rely on PCIe Gen 5 and DDR5, can start designing their chips right now.

    As for packaging, chips made using 7LPP EUV technology can be coupled with 2.5D silicon interposer (if HBM2/2E memory is used) as well as Samsung’s embedded passive substrates.

    Expanding EUV Capacity

    As noted above, Samsung installed EUV production tools at its Fab S3, which still has plenty of DUV (deep ultraviolet) equipment. As EUVL is used only for select layers of 7LPP chips, the relatively limited number of Twinscan NXE:3400B scanners is hardly a problem, but when Samsung’s process technologies will require EUV for more layers, it may need to expand its EUV capacities.

    As reported in September, a major increase of EUV lithography usage by Samsung Foundry will happen after it builds another production line in Hwaseong, which was architected for the EUV tools from the start. The fab is set to cost 6 trillion Korean Won ($4.615 billion), it is expected to be completed in 2019, and start HVM in 2020.

    33 Years in Development

    The launch of commercial production of chips using extreme ultraviolet lithography is a culmination of work by the whole semiconductor industry that began in 1985. Ultimately, EUVL is expected to reduce usage of multi-patterning when producing complex elements of a chip and therefore simplify design process, improve yields, and shrink cycle times (or rather not make them longer in the foreseeable future).

    Meanwhile, it was extremely challenging to bring EUV from drawing boards to actual fabs because the technology is extremely complex. It needs all-new step-and-scan systems outfitted with all-new light source, new chemicals, new mask infrastructure, and numerous other components that took years to develop. To learn more about EUV lithography, please check our article from 2016.

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    Source: Samsung
    Image Source: PC Watch

  3. AKiTiO has announced its new Thunderbolt 3 dock for high-end mobile workstations. AKiTiO’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro features a 10 GbE port enabled by an Aquantia chip, along with multiple USB Type-A ports, card readers, eSATA, and other connectors.

    The Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro from AKiTiO is aimed at creative professionals who happen to use 10 GbE Ethernet (or other multi-Gig options), so the vast majority of its owners right now will be from corporate space. In terms of connectors, the Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro has three USB 3.1 Type-A ports (one on the front, two on the back), one eSATA header, a DisplayPort, a 10 GbE RJ45 port enabled by Aquantia’s AQtion AQC-107 silicon, a 6-pin power input, and two TB3 connectors with 15 W and 60 W power delivery.

    The complexity of AKiTiO’s Thunderbolt 3 dock should be rather formidable as AQtion AQC-107 silicon connects using a PCIe interface, whereas eSATA requires a separate controller. To cool down the device, AKiTiO uses a fan that can still be turned off in a bid to make the dock whisper quiet.

    AKiTiO has not announced details about pricing of its Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro, but keeping in mind that this is the only TB3 docking solution for Apple’s MacBook Pro and other high-end laptops, we expect the device to carry a premium price tag.

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  4. iBASE introduced one of the industry’s first Mini-ITX motherboards for Intel’s Xeon E processors on Tuesday. The MI995 is based on Intel’s mobile CM246 PCH and is aimed at low-power miniature specialized PCs. Meanwhile, small does not mean limitations, so the MI995 has nearly all the expansion capabilities its bigger brothers do.

    The iBASE MI995VF-X27 is based on Intel’s CM246 chipset designed for laptops and supporting Intel’s Xeon E processors in FCBGA1440 packaging for mobile workstations. The particular model carries six-core Xeon E-2176M CPU. In addition, the manufacturer also offers the MI995VF-8850 and MI995VF-8400 platforms featuring the QM370 PCH as well as six-core Core i7-8850H and quad-core Core i5-8400H processors respectively. The Xeon-powered SKU supports up to 32 GB of ECC memory, whereas the Core-powered models can carry up to 32 GB of non-ECC DRAM. All the SKUs feature a TPM 2.0 module, and support vPro, iAMT 11.6 remote management, and iSMART 3.5 technologies.

    When it comes to expandability, the iBASE MI995 motherboards feature a PCIe 3.0 x16 slot for graphics cards, a mini-PCIe slot, an M.2-2280 slot for SSDs, an M.2-2230 slot for CNVi Wi-Fi solutions, two or four SATA connectors, and so on.

    Moving on to connectivity. The MI995 is equipped with two Intel GbE controllers, a Fintek F8196D-I chip for four COM ports, three display outputs, (DisplayPort, DVI-D, HDMI 2.0), six USB 3.1 ports, and audio connectors. As noted above, the motherboards may be outfitted with an optional 802.11ac Wi-Fi CNVi module.

    iBASE officially positions its MI995 motherboards for digital signage, gaming, entertainment, and POS applications. Even out of the box, the platform can support multiple displays. Once equipped with a discrete graphics card, the system gains both GPU performance and additional display outputs, just what is needed for digital signage and gaming applications.

    iBASE's MI995 Motherboards
      MI995VF-X27 MI995VF-8850 MI995VF-8400
    CPUs Intel Xeon E-2176M

    6C/12T
    2.7 - 4.4 GHz
    12 MB cache
    45 W
    Intel Core i7-8850H

    6C/12T
    2.6 - 4.3 GHz
    9 MB cache
    45 W
    Intel Core i5-8400H

    4C/8T
    2.5 - 4.2 GHz
    8 MB cache
    45 W
    PCH Intel CM246 + Fintek F81966D-I controller
    Graphics Intel UHD Graphics from CPU
    PCIe 3.0 x16 slot
    Display Outputs 1 × DisplayPort 1.2
    1 × eDP header
    1 × DVI-D
    1 × HDMI 2.0a
    Memory 2 × DDR4 SO-DIMM
    Up to 32 GB of DDR4-2667
    ECC or non-ECC, depending on CPU
    Slots for Add-In-Cards 1 × PCIe 3.0 x16
    1 × miniPCIe
    Ethernet LAN 1:
    Intel I219LM Gigabit LAN PHY (MI995VF-Series)
    Intel I219V Gigabit LAN PHY (MI995EF)
    LAN 2:
    Intel I210AT Gigabit LAN (MI995VF-X27)
    Intel I211AT Gigabit LAN (MI995VF-8850/8400, MI995EF)
    Storage 4 × SATA 6 Gbps
    1 × M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4 or SATA)
    2 × SATA 6 Gbps
    1 × M.2 (PCIe 3.0 x4 or SATA)
    Audio Realtek ALC888S-VD2-GR
    USB 6 × USB 3.1 Type-A
    4 × USB 2.0 Type-A via header
    Serial Ports 2 × RS232
    2 × RS232/422/485
    Wi-Fi M.2-2230 slot
    Operating Temperature 0°C~60°C (32°F~140°F)
    Form-Factor Mini-ITX (170 mm × 170 mm | 6.7" × 6.7")

    iBASE already lists MI995 motherboards on its website, but has not touched upon pricing and availability timeframe.

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    Source: iBASE

  5. Samsung on Wednesday started sales of its Q900R QLED 8K Ultra-HD televisions in the UK. The device initially available in the UK is the smaller 65-inch model, rather than the 75-inch one Samsung will be selling in the US in the coming weeks.

    Samsung’s Q900R-series televisions, featuring a 7680×4320 resolution, are currently available exclusively from Currys. Right now, only 65-inch 8K UHDTV from Samsung is available, but 75-inch and 85-inch models can be pre-ordered and delivered within 10 to 21 days. The “smaller” version of Q900R is priced at £4,999 ($5,588), whereas the 75-inch will cost £6,999 ($7,825) and the 85-inch will cost £14,999 ($16,768).

    Besides the 8K resolution, all Samsung’s Q900-series TVs are backed by a quantum dot-enhanced LED backlight that is also capable of FALD-like operation. The TVs offer a peak brightness of 4000 nits, which is the maximum brightness at which HDR content is mastered today. They also support HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG formats, but not Dolby Vision (at least for now). As for color gamut, the Q900-series can reproduce 100% of the DCI-P3 space.

    To properly playback existing content, Samsung’s Q900-series televisions feature proprietary 8K AI Upscaling technology, which is designed to enhance the quality of digital content to panel’s native resolution (does not work with PCs, games, analogue content, etc.). Also, the Tvs are able to interpolate content to 240 FPS. Both capabilities are enabled by the company’s Quantum Processor 8K, which is responsible for all decoding, upscaling, and other operations.

    Samsung is not the first company to start sales of 8K UHDTV globally, however this is a first for the UK. Sharp has been selling its 8K televisions in various regions for a little less than a year now. In the meantime, Samsung is the first to market with an 8K TV featuring a 4000 nits peak brightness.

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