SanDisk Preps Flash Drives For Notebooks

SanDisk is making the leap from portable Flash drives to hard disk replacements for laptops with the introduction of a 32 GB, 1.8-inch solid state drive (SSD) as an alternative to the magnetic hard disk. The drives will be on display next week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The company has offered Flash-based hard drives for some time to non-consumer industries such aerospace, airliners and the military, where performance is necessary and price is not an issue. A few hundred or thousand extra for a drive is a drop in the bucket for a $100 million airliner.

Consumers, though, may not appreciate the $600 premium for a laptop equipped with the SanDisk SSD drive, especially since it’s only 32GB in capacity, well below that of standard laptop drives.

“It will take a while for them to convince notebook manufacturers that this is a viable alternative,” said Krishna Chander, senior analyst for iSuppli, a market research analysis firm. “The issue is how much will consumers pay for a highly marked up system.” Chander admitted that he personally would not be interested in paying that kind of premium for his own system.

SanDisk  acquired the SSD technology with its purchase of msystems in mid-2006. The NAND  Flash memory in the SSD drive is the same Flash memory as used in USB-based drives. The only difference in the laptop drive is the interface, which is an Ultra ATA bus, the same kind used by traditional hard disks.

The SanDisk SSD can reach a sustained read rate of 62MB/sec and a random read rate 100 times faster than standard hard drives. Boot time for Windows Vista can be as short as 35 seconds.

Flash drives have an estimated mean time before failure of two million hours, around six times that of a hard disk. They consume only 0.4 watts of power during use vs. 1.0 watts from a regular drive. More important, with no moving parts, there’s no heat, and in a laptop, that’s a major concern.

“There is much less heat because you don’t have to start an engine every time. Think about it. The hard drive is the only mechanical part in a computer. If you look at a laptop on a thermal scan, the hard drive is pretty hot and red. An SSD drive has much lower heat because there is nothing moving,” said Iri Trashanski, director of business development for SSD at SanDisk.

SanDisk is aiming the SSD drive at the OEM market, with emphasis on mobile workers who rely on their laptops and the durability of a Flash drive. Flash drives can survive abuse better than regular hard drives. Trashanski said SanDisk wanted to go with the OEM market first and will decide on sales options later.

Trashanski thinks there is a market for laptops with a $600 premium. “I think so if you compare total cost between a regular 1.8-inch and this drive, you see a four-to-one or five-to-one performance value, but also the value in durability and improved performance. I think this is worth the money and what we see in the market we’re talking to,” he said.

Chander thinks adoption will be slow and pick up as prices drop and capacity grows. “The reason [SSD drives] have not hit the consumer side is because of the price, the dollar per gig. Even today they are too high, but eventually they will start migrating, especially the road warriors who need power savings and light weight. In those areas, SSD play a part,” he said.

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