Solid State Drives accelerate into market

SSDs don't consume profoundly less power or run any faster than spinning hard drives...yet.

SSDs (Solid State Drives) will change the face of mobile computing one day, by making high-capacity storage more reliable, dramatically increasing the battery life of laptops, and speeding up performance of reads and writes. But that day hasn't come yet.

SSDs use a fancier form of flash memory that's packaged with the same interface used for 2.5-inch laptop hard drives, and that's designed to handle the far higher amount of rewriting that a hard drive experiences versus, say, a Secure Digital card used with a digital camera. They also cost the dickens--several hundred dollars buys you a 64 GB SSD, like the one available for the Apple MacBook Air (included in one option or an add-on for others).

Recent reports from IDC, Tom's Hardware, and other testing labs indicate that the current generation of SSDs don't consume profoundly less power or run any faster for most tasks than comparable fast-spinning laptop hard drives. The reports vary on which and how much of an improvement SSDs offer.

Of course, this is all short term. The current stuff on the market is really the first true generation of mass products. SSDs before 2008 were much more of a niche item, not fully exploited. Right now, they have the advantage of extremely high reliability; in the near future, we'll see far faster speeds and far lower power consumption.

New products are already hitting or about to hit the market along with lower price points. This week alone, Lenovo and Dell added SSDs to their line ups, and makers OCZ and Ridata announced higher capacities and far lower prices for their models.

Lenovo's SSD pricing isn't yet available for models they announced this week, but won't ship until next month. They currently charge about US$1,000 for a 64 GB SSD in one of their laptop lines; the new pricing is likely to be far lower.

Dell has set the price on its option: a 128 GB drive will cost US$649 as an option for Dell Precision and Latitude notebooks starting this week. They're advertising it as more shock resistant and more reliable. (Apple, by the way, dropped its MacBook Air 64 GB drive upgrade's price by $400 without making any announcement just a few weeks ago.)

OCZ said earlier this month that they would ship in the near future three capacities of SSD: 32 GB ($169 list), 64 GB ($259), and 128 GB ($479). OCZ is claiming better power usage and performance relative to hard drives.

Ridata will also release new SSDs soon in 32 GB ($170), 64 GB ($295), and 128 GB ($538) capacities, claiming lower power usage, less heat, and better performance.

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Glenn Fleishman

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