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Monday, May 23, 2005
Samsung Replaces Hard Drives With Flash

Company will begin offering a flash memory-based storage device for laptops.

Samsung Electronics has developed a replacement for conventional hard drives that is based on flash memory chips. The company plans to begin mass production of the device in August, it says.

The solid-state disk (SSD) uses memory chips in place of the mechanical recording system used inside hard drives, and has several advantages including lower power consumption and higher data rates. Flash memory technology isn't new and the advantages have been known for years but such solid-state disks have never been commercially produced before because flash has one big disadvantage over hard-drive storage: it's much more expensive.

Samsung announced basic details of the SSD on Monday but declined to provide any information about its price.

The Seoul company is planning SSDs with parallel ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) interfaces in capacities up to 16GB. The 16GB devices will contain 16 memory chips holding 8 gigabits each, it says. Such chips sell for about $55 each on the spot memory market, according to DRAM Exchange Tech. That would put the chip cost of the 16GB SSD at almost $900.

Because Samsung is a major manufacturer of flash memory chips, it can likely source the chips internally at a lower price. Even so, it will be difficult to compete with hard drive makers on cost. Laptop drives at capacities of up to 30GB can easily be found for less than $200.

The advantages of a Flash HDD are obvious: Silent operation, consumes 5 percent of the power used by a hard drive, and weighs less than half as much. It can read data at up to 57MB per second and write it at up to 32MB per second.

Because SSDs don't use moving parts, they are much more resistant to harsh environmental conditions or shock and are thus suitable for industrial or military markets, says Samsung. Such users are less focused on low-cost components than the consumer market.

The price difference between flash memory and hard drive storage has been narrowing and continues to do so, says Simon Woo, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in Seoul. While per-bit prices for the type of memory produced by Samsung are dropping at between 30 percent and 40 percent per year, the equivalent price for hard drive storage is falling by about 20 percent annually, he says.

Eventually, SSDs will be able to compete with hard drive storage on price but that time is several years away, he says.

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