RealTime IT News

Hardware Players Devise New Storage Interface

SAN FRANCISCO -- A coalition of IT hardware companies debuted a new computer interface for handheld and consumer devices at the Intel Developer's Forum here today.

The Consumer Electronics-ATA initiative is a derivative of the Advanced Technology Attachment storage specification, and it addresses a slew of handheld devices that interface with PCs and servers. The spec should be ready for widespread use as early as next year.

The minds behind CE-ATA, which include folks from Intel, Seagate Technologies, Hitachi Global Storage, Marvell Semiconductor, and Toshiba America Information Systems, are the same ones that announced the formal establishment of the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO) during a keynote at the Intel Developers Forum here.

The project's first goal is to define a standard interface, which includes low pin count, low voltage, power efficiency, cost effectiveness and integration efficiency. Previously, handheld devices would have had to rely on bulkier I/O interconnects.

CE-ATA differs from Serial ATA in that it focuses on smaller form factors, such as PDAs, MP3 players and mobile phones. But even for the enterprise, the CE-ATA helps encourage highly optimized small form factor disk drives. For instance, chipmakers will be able to take advantage of the low pin count, low voltages, and efficient protocols.

Kurt Grimsrud, a senior principal engineer with Intel, said the disk drive interface could eventually spur improved storage use in these handheld devices and allow customers to have yet another option for storing files.

"No disk drive interface exists today that is tailored to meet the needs of the handheld and consumer electronics market segments, so disk drives have had to make do with other interface alternatives that are complex and cumbersome, or simply ill-suited for power-constrained tiny handhelds," Grimsrud said.

Grimsrud said with the increasing need for storage drives, the working group was sorely needed and is a natural extension of Serial ATA. The two initiatives were kept separate intentionally, because handheld and portable consumer applications do not have the same requirements as mainstream computing.

"When the interconnects take up more power than the system itself, then something is wrong," Grimsrud told internetnews.com. "We'll make sure the specification will be optimized."

As for the new Serial ATA storage industry group, the working group's transition to SATA-IO was necessary, as the technology has evolved from SATA version 1.0 in early 2000, to SATA II in 2002 to the current SATA-IO.

The roadmap includes enabling the 3 gigabits-per-second (Gb/s) technology, which the group discussed in a July 2004 announcement. The group also said it plans on expanding its membership to include additional optical storage vendors, storage controller and hard drive vendors, system builders, storage semiconductor designers and computer technology designers.

The group demonstrated, for the first time, end-to-end 3Gb/s SATA technology to confirm the newly released spec, which should be completed in the first half of 2005.