Samsung develops flash-based 'disk' for PCs

Samsung Electronics will begin producing a flash memory-based storage device for laptop computers in August.

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

The solid-state disk (SSD) uses memory chips in place of the mechanical recording system used inside hard-disk 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-disk 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 company is planning SSDs with parallel ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) interfaces in capacities up to 16GB bytes. The 16G-byte devices will contain 16 memory chips holding 8G bits each, it said. Such chips sell for about US$55 each on the spot memory market, according to DRAM Exchange Tech. That would put the chip cost of the 16G-byte 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-disk drive makers on cost. Laptop drives at capacities of up to 30G bytes can easily be found for less than US$200.

The SSD operates silently, consumes 5 percent of the power used by a hard disk, and weighs less than half as much. It can read data at up to 57M bytes per second and write it at up to 32M bytes 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, said Samsung. Such users are less focused on low-cost components than the consumer market.

Samsung expects the SSDs will find a home in specialized portable products such as tablet PCs or laptops, said Suyeon Chae, a spokeswoman at Samsung Electronics. Three versions are planned: a 16G-byte version that will be about the same size as a 2.5-inch hard-disk drive, and 8G-byte and 4G-byte versions that will be a similar size to 1.8-inch drives.

The price difference between flash memory and hard-disk storage has been narrowing and continues to do so, said 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-disk storage is falling by about 20 percent annually, he said.

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

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