First tests: Fast 32GB flash hard drive

Shipping now, the 32GB and 16GB drives will initially be sold to equipment makers only. Given flash memory costs (approximately US$63 per 4GB chip module at press time), 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 GB. 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. (See Plugged In, for another Samsung flash-based product that will offer hybrid capabilities.)

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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Jon L. Jacobi

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