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Dell Forges Ahead on SSD Notebooks

Dell is giving flash-based solid-state notebook drives a big vote of confidence with its own upcoming SSD offering. Yet some industry pundits aren't convinced there's user demand, or even a performance gain, in store for the technology.

In a posting on the Direct2Dell blog, Sarah Williams, from Dell's client storage and emerging tech team, highlighted the potential for SSD -- at least, for the PC manufacturer take on it, which it calls Flash Ultra Performance SSD.

Dell's SSD is slated for release in coming weeks in 32GB and 64GB capacities for the company's Precision, Latitude, Alienware and XPS laptops, it said. The product is based on Samsung's SATA II-SSD technology, and will leave "traditional notebook hard drives in the dust," Williams said.

[cob:Related_Articles]But Jim Handy of Objective Analysis told InternetNews.com that Dell doesn't seem to be dealing with a major obstacle ahead in its efforts to mix SSD drives into laptop configurations.

"Today's software and operating systems have been written for hard drives, not to accommodate SSD which has high read [speed], but slow write speed," Handy said. "The benefits are not compelling."

Williams also discussed some of the benefits that SSD storage adds into notebook design. For instance, she said since flash is essentially a circuit board, it can be built into in several areas of a notebook chassis.

"This means thinner, lighter and more durable designs with performance that can compete with desktops," she wrote.

However, some industry-watchers are skeptical about the near-term applicability of SSD in notebook designs.

For one thing, adoption will be tied to price point, Jeffrey Janukowicz, a research manager at IDC, told InternetNews.com. Specifically, he's not sure whether users will pony up the $500 to $1,000 extra required for SSD.

"There are a number of reasons you would want to move to SDD, like enhanced reliability and better power consumption," Janukowicz said. "But it's going to be at a price premium."

Dell declined to comment about its SSD laptop strategy, and spokespeople instead pointed to Williams' posting as the company's response to such criticism.

Williams, meanwhile, indicated in her post that Dell has been working to address concerns with performance, capacity and price.

For instance, she said Dell's labs benchmarked SSD in a Latitude notebook and saw a 35 percent overall system performance increase, compared to a standard 2.5-inch 5400-RPM notebook hard drive using the benchmarking suite SYSmark 2007.

"And just for fun, we did a shootout between the new SSD and a few desktop drives and, well, let's just say that the performance gap is becoming a thing of the past," she added. "Preliminary tests showed that this drive outperformed a 10,000-RPM desktop drive in overall system performance."

Williams also alluded to questions about SSD's high price tag -- but said users would be getting valuable, "smarter" features for their money.

"Dell and Samsung engineers optimized the way data is handled and drastically improved performance to an 'awe-worthy' level without adding much more cost to the drive," she wrote.

Of course, Dell's not alone in believing that at least some notebook users are interested in SSD. Apple's newest Macbook Air notebook, for instance, offers a SSD option -- at an added cost of $1,000.

As Handy noted, even Apple doesn't believe the optional feature is appropriate for every user.

"Unless people have money rolling in their pockets, this will just be an option," he said.