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Computing Jan. 2008

Goodbye HDD, Hello SSD?
By John R. Quain
Solid state drives based on flash memory are appearing in more laptops

XO LaptopAre hard disk drives destined to go the way of floppy drives? If the nascent trend in laptops is any indication, solid state drives (SSDs) may eventually supplant hard drives.

SSDs are made of non-volatile flash memory—rather than the spinning discs and read/write heads of hard drives—and are prized for their lower power consumption, reduced heat buildup, and dead quiet operation. They are also impervious to shakes, shocks, and drops, which is why Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and Toshiba all now notebooks with SSDs.

SanDisk, one of the top SSD makers, says the flash memory drives can also improve system performance with much higher sustained data transfer rates of 67 MB or more. And the company claims that SSDs can help stretch battery life, requiring just 0.9 watts of power during operation versus 1.9 watts for a hard drive.

However, the price disparity between SSDs and hard drives is significant. SSDs cost from $11 to $19 per gigabyte, whereas hard drives cost a mere 32 cents a gigabyte. Capacity is also an issue, with most SSD drives topping out at 64 GB, although several companies have announced 128 GB offerings.

“But businesses need to look at total cost of ownership of SSD versus HDD,” says Jim Elliott, director of flash marketing at Samsung Semiconductor Inc. “If you’re managing a fleet of laptops, SSDs can reduce failure rates, downtime and lost productivity.”

Still, SSD prices will keep them out of the hands of most consumers. Laptops with SSDs represent a $500 to $700 premium over notebooks outfitted with three times the amount of hard disk storage. But analysts predict prices will fall and capacities will rise so that by 2010 about 20 percent of notebooks will ship with SSDs, according to Gartner. IDC predicts that SSD revenues will go from $373 million in 2006 to $5.4 billion in 2011.

However, what killed floppy drives was their lack of capacity. And that’s exactly where hard drives continue to excel—for the moment.

(JQ also appeared on the Fox Business channel to discuss SSDs, Jan. 24, 2008)


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