Combining Flash Memory Chips

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-12-07 Print this article Print

Meanwhile, Samsung has also been working on solid state drives, which combine numerous flash chips. The company believes that its solid state drives could replace traditional hard drives in notebooks. Last May, Samsung announced plans to offer a line of flash-based drives with up to 16GB of storage capacity, which can fit within the footprints of notebook hard drives.
One of its flash drive lines, which offers up to 8GB of storage capacity, fits into the same space as a 1.8-inch notebook hard drive. Another mirrors the size of a 2.5-inch hard drive and can hold up to 16GB, the company said.
"Initially, we think this will be relatively small application," Barnetson said. "Were not going to be converting 60GB or 80GB [hard] drives to flash any time soon. The price spread is too large." Instead, he predicted the flash-based drives would show up in small notebooks where less data storage capacity is acceptable and buyers are willing to trade off a higher price for less weight and small size. Click here to read more about Samsungs plans to boost its output of flash memory and other chips. Cost will play a huge role for flash, going forward. Storing data "is just cost, cost, cost. Thats all it is. Its nothing else," said Ed Dollar, chief technology officer for Intels Flash Products Group. "I dont think youre going to see nonvolatile memory take out a 60GB hard drive in the short term. Its just not going to happen." PC makers, which continually weigh the cost of a given feature versus its benefits as seen by their customers, agreed that while switching to flash memory could help slim down their notebooks, it would also drive up costs, due to flashs higher price per megabyte. Thats why, right now, "For an everyday PC, flash is probably not the answer," said Gary Elsasser, a vice president in charge of product development at Gateway Inc. "Im not sure its going to be impressive enough a change for customers to say, Im willing to spend the money for it. Customers must demand it or else the extra cost wont sustain it in the marketplace. The verdict on that is still out." Indeed, "The end-user benefit needs to be tangible. If youre adding cost to the systems, you need to make sure youre adding value at the same time," said Mark Cohen, distinguished engineer and director of Think Offering Management at Lenovo Group LTD., maker of the ThinkPad notebook. "I dont see anything significant happening thats going to change the balance of the way flash and hard drives are used" in the near term, Cohen said. Even Samsungs Barnetson agreed wide adoption of fully flash-based drives is at least several years in the making, due to the memorys price. "It takes time to reach the price points that consumers demand," he said. "When flash comes within 50 percent (of hard disk prices), were talking about a compelling" proposition for PCs. But flash has become more popular in some areas. It has displaced hard drives in some music players, for example. Once limited to low-price players, Apple Computer Inc. used flash in its iPod Nano music player, introduced last September. The sleek-looking player costs between $199 and $249 and offers either 2GB or 4GB of flash memory for storing music and data. By using flash memory, Apple was able to make the Nano smaller than its predecessor, the iPod Mini. Although the Nano offers less storage capacity—the Mini offered up to 6GB of hard drive space—customers appear to value its size over its capacity. Thats something that companies like Samsung are banking on when it comes to spreading flash drives into PCs. Intels Dollar, for one, said flash has time on its side. The solid state memory can actually take advantage of the rising capacity of hard drives, he argued. Flash could start to replace miniature hard drives in applications that require relatively small amounts of memory, where it may become difficult to find hard drives below a certain cost point. Different executives said it was about $40 to about $60. Meanwhile, flash chips continue to increase in capacity thanks to the progress of semiconductor manufacturing. But where companies might increasingly turn to flash to build a device with 2GB or even 4GB of onboard storage, they are likely to stick to hard drives for larger capacities, such as 10GB, due to cost reasons, Dollar said. Ever cautious, PC makers may approach incorporating flash even more slowly. Flash "is something well look at very carefully to understand what the benefits are," Lenovos Cohen said. "Im never going to say no to anything. Its something were keeping our eye on. But for desktops or notebook applications, I dont see it happening in the short term—the next couple of years plus." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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