Flash drives took another step toward widespread acceptance Wednesday when drivemaker SanDisk launched its 32-GB, 2.5-inch solid-state drive (SSD). The introduction follows by two months the company's creation of a 32-GB, 1.8-inch drive for ultramobile PCs.
SanDisk's Serial ATA drive is compatible with most notebook computers that use a 2.5-inch drive, and is available as a drop-in replacement for many existing hard drives.
SanDisk SSDs have several advantages over traditional hard drives, the company said. They provide two million hours mean time between failures -- about six times more than standard hard drives. They are more durable and reliable because they have no moving parts.
In addition, they move data in and out more than 100 times more quickly than standard hard drives. That can mean booting Vista in as little as 30 seconds, according to the Milpitas, California-based company.
Small Size, Big Benefits
Beyond reliability and speed, they are as much as 50 percent more energy efficient. And, for those who want to use their laptop while the airplane passenger in the next seat sleeps, SSDs are as silent as USB memory sticks and other flash-based storage media.
One of the big benefits for Samir Bhavnani, director of research at Current Analysis, is that "your system will boot up faster." He said he has seen demos with Vista booting up in 20 to 30 seconds, confirming what SanDisk attests.
The durability can also be big advantage, Bhavnani said, especially for people on the go. "Picture a needle on a record," he said. "Now picture it being dropped. That's what happens to a standard hard drive," he said, when gravity takes over.
Even at a higher per-gigabyte price than a hard drive, the SSD will have appeal to the road warrior, he said. "Flash pricing is in a steep dive," he said, "but it's still more expensive by quite a bit than hard drives. But, for the person who travels a lot, it may be worth it."
He noted that another big advantage for this new SSD is its 2.5-inch size, which means it can drop right into existing notebooks. "This is a big differentiator for some OEMs," he noted.
SSDs vs. HDDs
Will SSD drives ever completely replace hard drives? Bhavnani said he doesn't think so. "That's like saying a Porsche will replace a Cadillac," he said. "Hard drives are always going to be bigger." But, for an ultramobile, he said, 32 GB might be sufficient for some users' needs on the road.
The SSD market is definitely getting hot. Samsung has a competing 32-GB SSD, and has recently announced hybrid drives with flash memory combined with traditional magnetic media. On Monday, Intel announced SSDs in sizes of 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB.
SanDisk will be showing the 32-GB SSDs at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany, scheduled for March 15 to 21, 2007. Volume pricing on the new drives has been set at $350 each. In contrast, SanDisk's 32-GB, 1.8-inch drive costs $600.
Expect the price per gigabyte to drop and the total storage to increase, making it easier to move away from hard drives, said Amos Marom, vice president and general manager of SanDisk's Computing Systems division, in a statement.