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the Top 20 SSD OEMs - in 2011 Q1

16th in this series - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - April 11, 2011.

See also:- storage market research, SSD market history, popular SSD articles

Who are the top 20 most important SSD manufacturers? tracks over 300 manufacturers of SSDs.

That's 30x more than when we started publishing SSD guides in 1998
and 6x as many as when we started this quarterly top 10 SSD series in 2007.
Top 20 SSD OEMs - based on search volume Q1 2011 - ©StorageSearch
rank company editor's comments and recent milestones

main SSD technology

InfiniBand SSDs
Same as before.

This is Fusion-io's 9th straight quarter in the #1 slot. Fusion-io's search volume was 67% higher than the #2 ranked company, and 5x higher than the #10 ranked company in this list.

Fusion-io has become the yardstick by which all other enterprise PCIe SSD companies are judged - having achieved design wins with most of the world's leading server oems and having set many performance records.

Fusion-io epitomizes what I call the New Dynasty architectural trend in the enterprise SSD market. What I mean by that is that Fusion-io's technology is more suited to new SSD aware server installations and less suitable as a bolt-on accelerator for legacy setups.

That leaves a wide door open for other competitors to walk into the legacy side of the PCIe SSD datacenter - and encouraged by Fusion-io's legitimization of this interface and form factor more than 30 SSD companies have launched products in the PCIe SSD market since Fusion-io started to pioneer this segment in 2007.

In March 2011 - Fusion-io announced it has filed a registration statement on Form S-1 with the SEC for a proposed IPO of shares of its common stock.

This has focused the attention of many CEOs in the SSD market to the question of what their own companies might be worth?

If Fusion-io gets a high valuation then many of its competitors will feel more comfortable about their own prospects for funding too.

One obvious question which comes to mind - when you're reading this article is whether Fusion-io - which is still private company - is worth more than STEC? I guess we'll know the answer to that soon.
main SSD technology

military SSDs
Same as before.

This is STEC's 4th straight quarter at #2. STEC has been in every edition of the top 10 SSD oems list in the past 4 years. STEC's highest rank was #1 in 2008 Q2 - and lowest point was #8 in 2009 Q2.

When this series articles started (in 2007) STEC was the undisputed performance leader in enterprise flash SSDs.

Then things got complicated as flash SSD architecture broke out of its hard disk form factor shackles and declared its independence in rackmounts - and was born again in PCIe cards. Consequently the fastest SSDs picture nowadays is blurred - with no single company standing out in the spectrum of enterprise form factors and interfaces.

That fragmentation is great if you're the company which "owns" a particular segment in the minds of customers. It makes your business more efficient and your messages simpler.

But it's more problematic for companies like STEC who offer a vast range of products into many diverse markets which once had few suppliers. In the past STEC could technically sell SSDs without being good at marketing. But each of those past techie segments now has 30, 50, or hundreds of competitors. The customers are new too - and if they see a crowd of products which all look very similar vendors have got to invest in communications which explain why they think theirs is better.

I've said many times before on these pages that STEC has particular weaknesses in the enterprise acceleration market because it does little or no effective marketing to the end users who actually buy their products and relies instead on indirect marketing done by its partner oems - who in the main - have lagged behind the top SSD companies in capturing the market's imagination - and (as we have been finding out recently in various Petabyte shipment announcements) have not been doing as well as they thought in comparative shipments either.

STEC used to be the company which every other SSD company wanted to beat - owning (as it did for many years) the top performance slots for HDD compatible server flash SSDs - and a sizable chunk of the military SSD market too.

The SSD market is much bigger now - and the agenda in different market segments is being set by many different companies - rather than by any single company. If you try this thought experiment you'll see what I mean. If STEC suddenly ceased making SSDs - then all its main customers would have little or no problem adapting their designs to use alternative competing products without negatively impacting competitive performance.

main SSD technology

flash SSD Controllers
Same as before.

SandForce has had strong showings in the top 10 SSD companies lists since the company emerged from stealth mode in April 2009.

By any measure SandForce today is the best known and most successful designer of SSD controllers - with over 30 SSD oems using its technology.

To my way of thinking one of the strengths of the top SSD oems series is that our search volume methodology was sensitive enough to predict this success and catapaulted SandForce staright into these listings in the same quarter as it emerged from stealth mode.

In February 2011 - SandForce said it had shipped more than one million of its SF-1500 and SF-1200 SSD Processors since they were released into production in 2010. SandForce Driven SSD Manufacturers shipped more than 100 Petabytes of NAND flash into the mainstream computing markets.
Texas Memory Systems

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Same as before.

Texas Memory Systems, has been operating continuously in the SSD market longer than any other company. Despite that the company has often surprised me with its technical and marketing innovations.

In the rackmount SSD market TMS has established many performance records with both its RAM SSD and flash SSD product lines - while its PCIe SLC SSD products - launched in March 2009 - remain one of the most popular choices in the market for enterprise users seeking upgrades for legacy servers.

In January 2011 - Texas Memory Systems announced the availability of 8Gbps fibre-channel interfaces for its RamSan-630 - fast 10TB 3U rackmount SLC SSDs. Each unit can be configured with upto 10 independent 8Gb FC ports for a total data transfer rate of 8 GBytes / sec. Ports can be mixed - with the previously available (and 25% faster) InfiniBand. When I spoke to the company which was traditionally secretive about technical details I was surprised to learn about some key performance enablers inside the RamSan-630.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
Same as before.

In the consumer and SMB market OCZ has been a sales phenomenom. The company has grown its annual SSD revenue to nearly $200 million within 3 years of entering the SSD market. Most of that business has been in the highly competitive small form factor market in which there are now hundreds of alternative suppliers.

One of OCZ's weaknesses had been that it didn't own any significant SSD IP - which meant that anything it could do with 3rd party controllers could be quickly and easily replicated. But in March 2011 - OCZ fixed that problem by acquiring SSD controller company Indilinx for for approximately $32 million.

That will enable OCZ to influence future product features to maximize the fit to user market needs which OCZ has been so adept at spotting. The newly acquired patent base will also provide horse trading and licensing revenue opportunities in the long term.
Violin Memory

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Same as before.

Violin is another SSD company which shot straight into the top 10 SSD companies list in the same quarter as it exited stealth mode in 2007.

Then in 2009 and early 2010 Violin mysteriously seemed to go back into stealth mode. Some speculated that maybe the product needed refinements - others that the company didn't have the right business chemistry and resources needed to develop the right customer base.

In the past year - with new funding Violin is once again playing the same "very fast" SSD tune to a much more receptive market audience - now that enterprise users have got more accustomed to SSDs as being a normal part of everyday business.

In January 2011 - Violin Memory announced a $35 Million Series B funding round which includes Toshiba - a strategic investor since April 2010.

main SSD technology

1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
3.5" SSDs
Up 1 place since the last quarter.

RunCore has more than 50 patents in the field of solid-state storage. The company's SSD activities started when they developed high speed SSD systems for the military market in China.

Today RunCore is an international company with a wide range of SSD modules and cards which span the military, industrial, enterprise server and prosumer markets.
WD Solid State Storage

main SSD technology

1.8" SSDs
2.5" SSDs
Down 2 places since the last quarter.

WD's SiliconDrive SSD family - aimed at high reliability applications in the embedded systems market - was first launched in 2004.

5 years ago they were the first company to publicly embark on educating systems designers about the importance of design differentiators when coping with sudden SSD power loss. This is something which more SSD oems have started to talk about recently as it's a very significant reliability factor.

In March 2011 - WD announced it will acquire Hitachi GST for approximately $4.3 billion. Although the primary motive is hard drives - the companies said they would put more resources into SSDs too.

If the acquisition goes ahead then WD will extend its reach into the enterprise SSD market initially by means of the SAS and FC SSDs which HGST has recently brought to market.

Reliability has never been a sexy subject in the storage market. Most users mistakenly believe that module reliability is similar or good enough from most vendors - and all that's needed to make it better are some high availability techniques like RAID and mirroring. But the intrinsic differences between different SSD product families is huge. And the burden of understanding those differences is just one of the many facets of SSD education.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
Same as before.

Intel entered the flash SSD market comparatively late for a semiconductor company - in 2007.

Unfortunately in the rush to gate crash the frothing SSD market bubble, and lacking vital experience Intel has acquired a reputation in the SSD market for shipping inadequately designed and verified products - which have required recalls or firmware upgrades.

In the long term I anticipate Intel will solve its SSD IP problems by acquiring an SSD company. In the meantime Intel dallies with several controller companies. Intel's 510 SSD used a controller from Marvell and Intel has invested in Anobit.

In March 2011 - Intel published version 1.0 of a new proprietary standard for designers of PCI SSDs in systems which use Intel processors - the NVM Express Optimized PCI Express SSD Interface.

And Intel launched a new 2.5" SSD aimed at legacy notebook designs which have 3Gbps SATA ports. The Intel SSD 320 (which includes 128 bit encryption) is available with MLC capacities from 40GB ($89 1k price) to 600GB ($1,069 1k). R/W speeds are 270MB/s and 220MB/s respectively. R/W IOPS are 39,500 and 23,000. In this new design , Intel has added redundancies that will help keep user data protected, even in the event of a power loss.

main SSD technology

military SSDs
Same as before.

Foremay's small form factor SSDs have appeared from time to time in the fastest SSDs lists. Foremay's main markets are in the embedded industrial and military segments.

In March 2011 - published a new update in the SSD Bookmarks series - with links suggested by Jack H Winters, CTO, Foremay.

Foremay announced it is shipping 32GB PATA versions of its OC177 SSD Disk on Chip which measures 22 x 22 x 1.8 mm and has R/W speeds of 70 and 40MB/s respectively.

main SSD technology

Up 2 places since the last quarter. This is Seagate's best ranking in these lists.

Seagate entered the SSD market later than most other multibillion dollar storage companies in December 2009.

Seagate has eschewed acquisition and badge engineering as routes into the SSD market and instead seems to be relying on a combination of in-house designs mixed with licensing some missing IP.

Seagate has never appeared in the fastest SSDs lists.

In March 2011 - Seagate announced details of new 2.5" SAS SSDs - marketed under its Pulsar brand - which will ship in the 2nd quarter. Available capacities are 400GB (SLC) and 800GB (MLC). R/W speeds are upto 360MB/s and 300MB/s respectively. Sustainable random R/W IOPS are 48K and 22K respectively.
Pliant Technology

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
3.5" SSDs
Down 1 place since the last quarter.

Pliant entered the SSD market in September 2009 with a family of small form factor enterprise SAS SSDs using its own controller design. Pliant's route to market is via 3rd party oems who embed its SSDs into their systems.

Nowadays any competent storage oem can design its own SAS SSD using a variety of off the shelf controllers and interface IP. That puts pressure on companies like Pliant and STEC to ensure their products maintain a performance and reliability edge.

As I see it Pliant's current business model is not sustainable as it has a very narrow channel into the enterprise SSD market which can easily be choked off by slot substitution. I'm sure that one escape route out of that trap will be to join the runaway PCIe SSD market. Another route may be to market integrated storage systems.

(In my 1st draft of this note I also added at this point - that the company may urgently seek an acquirer. I toned it down and removed this sentence. But my instinct was right. In May 2011 - SanDisk agreed to acquire Pliant.)

In March 2011 - Pliant announced the retirement of its founding CEO and the appointment of Richard Wilmer as the new CEO.

The SSD market has changed substantially since Pliant's original business plans were formed. The company has proved they can make a fast controller that works. But the SAS market is not the real future for very high performance SSDs. As I see it the challenge for the new CEO is to fugure out other attractive ways to leverage Pliant's technology assets and communicating better with the ultimate customers of their products.

main SSD technology

1" SSDs
tv SSDs
notebook SSDs
Down 1 place since the last quarter. SanDisk's best ranking in the top SSD oems list was #1 slot in Q3 2007.

SanDisk is one of the largest suppliers of flash storage having shipped 600 million units in 2010. Most of this is dumb flash storage rather than true SSDs.

SanDisk sells SSDs both directly to consumers and also via oems (into the mobile phone, notebook and tv / music player storage markets).

SanDisk is one of the leading company in advancing the use of MLC technology in SSDs, a technology which it inherited from the acquisition of SSD pioneer M-Systems in 2006.

Despite occasional talk about "enterprise SSDs" - SanDisk is culturally rooted in the consumer electronics market. The company has a track record of preannouncing exciting advanced SSDs or technologies upto more than a year before they turn into real products (and sometimes much longer than that.)

In February 2011 - SanDisk preannounced details of a new miniature SSD which will ship in Q3 2011 - the iNAND has upto 64GB (x3 MLC) capacity in a 12mm x 16mm x 1mm package.

main SSD technology

1st appearance in the top SSD oem lists.

Kove emerged on the SSD market in November 2010 - when it demonstrated a 4U InfiniBand & FC compatible RAM SSD product line called Xpress Disk (at the SuperComputing conference) which can sustain 20GB/s throughput via 6x InfiniBand ports.

At that time Kove's web site looked like a company still in stealth mode. It's better now - but still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

main SSD technology

Up 5 places since the last quarter.

LSI entered the SSD market and sampled its 1st SSD product in March 2010. It was a PCIe SSD - which is software compatible with SAS - an interface which LSI helped to pioneer.

In 2009 I wrote an article which explained why every company in the fast RAID controller chip business had to make a long term plan to get into SSDs - because there's no long term future in pretending to make slow hard drives look fast. The PCIe SSD route is one of several escape routes for RAID IP companies - and is a natural direction for LSI.

Building up credibility for a newbie in the SSD market is tough. LSI has done some of the things in the SSD marketer's ABC handbook such as sponsoring benchmark reports.

Unfortunately the early test reports which I saw had been so badly designed that they weren't useful to any serious performance modeler. This revealed that LSI's marketers didn't have enough SSD experience to design meaningful benchmarks. That's been true for many other SSD vendors too.

In March 2011 - LSI finally spun off the Engenio systems business - selling it for $480 million to Network Appliance. LSI had wanted to sell off Engenio since 2004. That should eliminate conflict of interest issues next time LSI's SSD sales people talk to a prospective oem customer. And it may put some money in the pot for new business development activities.
Solid Access Technologies

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Up 2 places since the last quarter.

Solid Access Technologies started shipping very fast rackmount RAM SSDs in 2003. The company has appeared in the fastest SSDs lists from time to time.

In recent months I've detected a new note of confidence among competing RAM based SSD makers. It's easier to do business - because unlike the old days - most high end users are now on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation SSD deployments and don't need to be told what an SSD is. There are clearer distinctions too - compared to 2007 and 2008 when flash invaded the datacenter acceleration market - about what the different roles are for RAM SSDs and flash SSDs - and why RAM SSDs will always be needed somewhere - and sometimes is cheaper.

Although Solid Access has been quiet on the news front for the past several quarters it has benefitted from the rising tide of interest in this subject.
SMART Modular Technologies

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
military SSDs
Up 2 places since the last quarter.

SMART's SSD heritage goes back more than a decade - and most people familiar with the company will know of its activities in the embedded industrial and military markets. Recently the company has been doing more in the enterprise SSD market too.

In January 2011 SMART published an applications note - SSD Power Failure Protection (pdf) which describes the 3 most vulnerable SSD areas which can get corrupted due to sudden power loss - and describes typical architectures to prevent it. I only discovered this after I had already published my own recent SSD sudden power loss architecture review article. But this is a very important factor which differentiates some SSDs from others - even when they use controllers from the same 3rd party.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
miniature SSDs
notebook SSDs
Down 4 places since the last quarter.

Samsung stated its aim as long ago as 2005 - to become the world's largest supplier of flash SSDs. That made Samsung the first storage company (of the multi-billion dollar revenue size) to recognize the strategic importance of SSDs.

Between then and the 4th quarter of 2010 Samsung's SSD product can best be described as "me-too", lagging severely behind in the performance dimension, and mostly suited for use in notebook PCs which the corporation buys you - but which you wouldn't buy for yourself.

In December 2010 - Samsung started sampling credible 2.5" SSDs for use in enterprise SATA arrays - and they will probably find homes in value engineered enterprise storage racks somewhere...

Samsung's real solution to re-engineering itself as an SSD powerhouse will be to acquire an SSD company. It has tried before - in 2008 it tried to buy SanDisk.

Realistically Samsung needs to buy 5 SSD companies.
  1. a high IOPS flash SSD specialist for the enterprise acceleration market
  2. a high reliability medium perfomance flash SSD specialist for the bulk storage market
  3. a x3 / x4 MLC specialist for the phone and consumer markets (that was the thinking behind SanDisk)
  4. a RAM SSD systems maker
  5. and an extra one for luck - just in case one of the others goes wrong
In a couple more years there will be 3x as many SSD companies in the market as there are in 2011. There will be more choice and the question of who to buy and why will become clearer.

main SSD technology

2.5" SSDs
Down 2 places since the last quarter.

PhotoFast entered the SSD market in 2008.

The company has appeared in the top 10 SSD companies list from time to time.

PhotoFast's products are aimed at the high performance consumer / prosumer / gaming market.

In February 2011 they launched a 500MB / s 2.5" SATA SSD.

main SSD technology

Rackmount SSDs
Down 4 places since the last quarter.

EMC entered the modern SSD market in January 2008.

No one who really knew the SSD market was impressed by these products which were little more than hard disk boxes with a few STEC SSDs inside. Compared to native rackmount SSDs at the time they were slow and uninspiring.

Was that really the best idea that EMC could come up with in response to the gaping performance gaps in the enterprise market between servers and storage?

EMC didn't add any worthwhile technology to those early STEC boxes - and by the time it did start adding tuning support a few years later - so too were 20 or more other companies.

In January 2011 - EMC revealed it had shipped 10 petabytes of SSD storage in 2010.

To put that into context:- it's equivalent to 10% of the enterprise SSD capacity shipped in the same period by SandForce Driven partners and 2/3 of the enterprise SSD capacity shipped by Fusion-io. Another difference here is that EMC's SSD sales were to a captive customer market developed over 2 decades who would probably try any new storage product from EMC once - whereas the other named companies are still at the early stage of growing a customer base.
Just below the surface

The companies below were near misses to this edition of the top 20 SSD companies list:- Micron Technology (21), NextIO (22), DDRdrive (23), Memoright (24), BiTMICRO (25), Dataram (26) and Nimbus Data Systems (27).
the top 10 SSD oems
the top 20 SSD oems
Megabyte announced the future winners in
the SSD market predicted by search volume
on the longest running SSD publication.
SSD ad - click for more info
Past #1 SSD companies
You can learn a lot about changes in the SSD market by seeing which types of companies have occupied the top search slots in recent years and for how many quarters.
company QTRS when?
BiTMICRO 2 2007 Q4 , 2008 Q1
Fusion-io 9 2009 - Q1 to 2011 Q2
Memoright 3 2008 - Q2, Q3, Q4
SanDisk 1 2007 Q3
STEC 1 2007 Q2
The primary purpose of the series is to help our readers short-list and focus attention on future SSD market winners. I started tracking the relative search popularity of SSD companies in 2004 - when researching SSD market inhibitors and buyer preferences. But I only started publishing this info 3 years later - in 2007.

SSD market history shows that a company can be a winner one year and go out of fashion the next. Our tracking methodology - which now correlates more than 4 different types of searches - and millions of SSD related searches every quarter - is sensitive enough to pick up advance clues of business shifts upto several quarters in advance.
the 3 fastest PCIe SSDs?
Are you trying to shortlist flash SSD accelerators according to comparative benchmark tests?

If so a new article - the 3 fastest PCIe SSDs list (or is it really lists?) may help to take some of the pressure off you. Hmm... you may be thinking that StorageSearch's editor never gives easy answers to SSD questions if more complicated ones are available.
the 3 fastest  PCIe SSDs  - click to read article But in this case you'd be wrong. (I didn't say you'd like the answers, though.) the article
SSD ad - click for more info
Surviving SSD sudden power loss
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. the article
SSD ad - click for more info
flash SSD capacity - the iceberg syndrome
Have you ever wondered how the amount of flash inside a flash SSD compares to the capacity shown on the invoice?

What you see isn't always what you get.
nothing surprised the penguins - click to read  the article There can be huge variations in different designs as vendors leverage invisible internal capacity to tweak key performance and reliability parameters. the article
Retiring and retiering enterprise DRAM...
what are the underlying reasons that will enable slower cheaper memory (like nand flash) to replace most of the future DRAM market without applications noticing?
latency loving reasons for fading out DRAM
Past editions of the top 10 SSD oems article
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2010 Q4
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2010 Q3
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2010 Q2
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2010 Q1

Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2009 Q4
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2009 Q3
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2009 Q2
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2009 Q1

Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2008 Q4
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2008 Q3
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2008 Q2
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2008 Q1

Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2007 Q4
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2007 Q3
Top 10 SSD OEMs - 2007 Q2
SSD ad - click for more info
what's the effect of advertising?
As I said when this series started - the methodologies used to track search volume in these rankings exclude metrics related to advertising on

All vendors advertise somewhere online - even if some marketers delude themselves into thinking they don't.

In my view when vendors invest resources into SEO, online press releases, sponsored benchmarks and joining industry trade associations it's all advertising by different names - spending money with the aim of increasing online visibility.

How much does local advertising affect the top 10 SSD companies list? Just out of curiosity I reanalyzed the numbers for Q1 2011 - but inserted data for readers following up ads.

The result was to produce a list with exactly the same companies in the list - and the same #1 - but with the other companies as you can see below.

top 10 SSD companies in Q1 2011 - including skew effect from local ads

  1. Fusion-io - same
  2. Texas Memory Systems
  3. WD Solid State Storage
  4. RunCore
  5. SandForce
  6. STEC
  7. OCZ
  8. Violin Memory
  9. Intel
  10. Foremay
This is a one-off thought experiment and I won't repeat it. Interestingly it shows that even a big difference in the filtering method produces the same set of companies in the list. Is that odd? Not really. Because it's natural for companies to advertise in publications in which there is a high affinity with their readers. They'd be nuts to advertise anywhere else.

The quantitative benefit of local advertising for the top 10 companies is equivalent to 2x or 3x the online editorial impact of all their other marketing activities added together - but you still get the same bunch of companies in the list.

That's because readers are interested in what these companies have to say - however they say it. And buyers start out as readers and make markets - and editors - like me - pay a lot of attention to how companies are ranked by readers when deciding which stories to follow up. So it's always the market which decides in the end. But search volume based lists give you the earliest indicators in the market cycle of which direction companies are heading in. I've used this method since 1996 to predict and report on server market trends and I have great confidence in the method after 15 years of using this tool.
How to interpret thes rankings?
The most important thing is being included in the list rather than the position within it. As the number of SSD oems has grown - it's much harder than it used to be to break into the top 10.

I sometimes get emails from SSD product managers griping about the validity of these lists. My reply is that it's a marketing reality they have to live with. Just as being ranked #1 or #91 on Google could make a big difference to your company - our SSD rankings will make a difference to your business.

High rankings mean that more people in the market are interested in learning more about what you're saying. On the other hand - if your business plan is to be a leading shaker in the SSD market and your company has never appeared in these lists - then you have an uphill struggle - and success could take a lot longer than you think.

I also get asked by companies - what can I do to get into the list and improve my rankings?

My reply is - "Design better SSDs. Improve your SSD marketing and spend more effort in communicating with important SSD market segments. Improve the customer experience of using your SSDs. Get your most enthusiastic customers to spread the word about you by telling people they know that you are such a great supplier."

The converse is also true.

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