New flash drive competes with notebook hard drives

We can't imagine life without our memory sticks - but are you ready for laptops with no moving parts in the hard drive?


Are you ready for laptop storage with no moving parts to spin up, break, drain your battery, add weight, or make noise? That's what you get with Samsung's new 32GB (Solid State Drive (SSD). Built using NAND flash memory, the SSD is the first consumer unit with enough capacity to compete against standard notebook drives; 32GB may not satisfy multimedia addicts, but it's plenty for average business users.

We looked at a preproduction model to see how it fared against 5400-rpm Seagate drives using the latest perpendicular recording technology or traditional longitudinal recording. The SSD found files more than twice as fast, and accelerated boot-up. Its cumulative speed advantage over the other two drives was an impressive 25%, though it was slower on two tests that involved accessing the drive many times rather than performing longer sequential reads and writes.

Shipping now, the 32GB and 16GB drives will initially be sold to equipment makers only. Given flash memory costs about $63 per 4GB chip module, it will be a while before an SSD matches the cost per gigabyte of a standard notebook drive, which is typically less than $2 per gigabyte. Samsung already includes the drive in its Japan-only Q30 subnotebook; the company is in discussions with U.S. vendors to bring SSD laptops and portable devices here.

Though the SSD's price is high, its silent operation, light weight, incredible shock resistance, and low level of power consumption bolster its appeal. Our unit weighed just 1.6 ounces, compared to 3.5 ounces for a typical 2.5-inch drive; 1.8-inch SSDs weigh even less. Its shock rating is a whopping 1500G -- it can withstand most shocks short of being fired out of a howitzer -- far higher than a standard drive's 200G to 300G rating. And it draws a tiny 0.5 watt of power while active and 0.1 watt at idle, far less than common drives.

But don't expect huge battery-life savings. On our system-level test, we saw a boost of about 9 percent in battery life for the test unit when configured with the SSD as opposed to with the Seagate Momentus 5400.3 (4 hours, 25 minutes versus 4 hours, 3 minutes).

Hybrid tech

To enjoy some of the benefits of an SSD without shelling out big bucks, consider a hybrid drive such as one of Seagate's 2.5-inch Momentus 5400 PSD series, which sport 256MB of flash memory cache. Such drives don't offer all the perks of an SSD, but they do save power by letting the drive motor spin down more often, and they cut boot and resume times by retaining the operating system data in the cache. They should also allow faster access to "instant on" multimedia and boost overall performance. Seagate hinted that hybrids will cost about 10 percent more than regular drives.

Vendors should release hybrids close to the ship date of Microsoft's Vista OS, which will include ReadyBoost, a feature that can use flash memory to accelerate system responsiveness.

Still, mobile pros who can deal with the smaller capacity of a pure SSD--and can afford it -- will love the 32GB SSD.

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