Flash Storage Solutions for Embedded Designs
High Reliability Flash SSDs, Cards and Modules for Industrial Applications
Posted by Biraj Jamalayam on Thursday, 12 Jun 2014
Fake Industrial Grade Flash Storage Devices - Beware of Impostors
On my many trips to different parts of Asia, I never failed to be accosted by strange salesmen trying to offer jeweled Swiss watches, name brand women's bags, designer perfumes and other luxury goods. These products look extremely genuine, high attention to detail, luxury boxes, glossy user manuals. Yet they are offered for a fraction of what the same item would cost in an American store. How is this done?
It is a common knowledge that Asia is full of brand name knock-offs, which are good looking copies of the expensive luxury goods built at a low quality Asian manufacturing facility using inferior component parts. So while the offered item might look and feel like a genuine part, it sure is NOT !
Similar development has been occurring in the Industrial Flash Storage market. Over the last few years a number of Asian no-name brands have come out of the woodwork offering Industrial Grade Flash storage products at dirt cheap prices. While their SSDs and Flash cards look just like the real devices, Industrial Labels with bar codes, professional looking data sheets and elaborate technical documentation, but in reality they are the same poor quality knock-offs just like the fake Rolex watches you find on every corner of an the Asian market.
What makes these devices inferior?
First, the memory component used is typically a reject component that the Asian manufacturers recover from the scrap pile of a semiconductor test house. While the rejected component can potentially function for a short while under normal conditions, the extended operation requirement of the Industrial Grade device will not be met.
All other assembly materials: connector, PCB, casing are of the least expensive kind resulting in physical damage to the device, especially in the highly environmentally sensitive applications.
Secondly, the Flash controller and respective firmware (FW) are usually created for the consumer device. The consumer market is very cost and performance sensitive. That means that the controller is the lowest cost product without any special features for robust operation or failure analysis. The accompanying FW is tuned for the maximum performance and not for long term reliable operation.
How to tell if the Industrial Grade Flash Storage device is genuine or fake ?
This is a multi-thousand dollar question as these devices are so well disguised that unless you do extensive reliability test of the product it is hard to find the weaknesses.
Here are a few clues:
1. Product Documentation - Typically the knock-off brands spend a lot of time and care perfecting the product, but not the accompanying documentation. Once you start inspecting the product data sheet, you will see incorrect grammar, run on sentences and even paragraphs that don't make sense from both language and technical sense.
2. Offered Price - As the common wisely states, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is !". Low price of the offered SSD or module is usually a red flag on the lack of quality or reliability or support, or all three. To be able to achieve such low pricing the component quality has most likely been sacrificed, the test and qualification effort has been reduced or even eliminated and pre and post sale support is probably non-existent.
3. Online Sales - Typically a manufacturer supporting OEM or Industrial customers doesn't develop products for the consumer market as the price and reliability requirements of the two markets are very different. As a good indication of potential issues with the vendor's products, if the same Flash SSDs or modules are sold in on-line store, or even worse Amazon or Ebay, is a major flag to stay away as the low cost products developed and targeted for consumer market could cross over to the Industrial applications.
When developing a high value Industrial equipment that is expected to work reliably and last a long time, it is critical to make proper choices of all the component and sub-system qualification. Considering low cost no-name brand in your storage selection, while appearing lucrative might not be wise. The long term effects of subpar components, reduced qualification tests and long term support could become a major disaster, especially a long term after the original product has been deployed at end-customer's site. Buyers should consider choices carefully and research the technical specifications and online presence to make sure that the product quality matches the reliability requirement of the end-product application.