Samsung launches 32 GB Flash disk for mobile computers

Taipei (Taiwan) - Samsung is first to announce a Flash storage device that aims to completely replace the traditional hard drive in some mass market mobile computers. The 32 GB solid state disk (SSD) drive comes in a 1.8" form factor and reads data at more than twice the speed of hard drives. Best of all: The SSD is promised to consume 95% less power than a hard drive.

Apple's decision to replace the 1.8" hard drive with a Flash memory device in the iPod Nano last October sparked a discussion whether Flash memory could soon replace hard drives in more applications than just MP3 players. We did not have to wait for an answer very long.

Samsung said it will be offering its 1.8" NAND Flash-based SSD in the not too distant future for mass market mobile computing applications. While the SSD's capacity of 32 GB cannot compete with traditional hard drives that currently offers up to 80 GB space, it offers superior performance and power consumption features that are likely to make the device the ultimate storage solution in some applications such as ultra-mobile computers, Tablet PCs and performance notebooks.

According to Samsung, the SSD will read and write data at 57 MB/s and 32 MB/s, respectively. We will have to benchmark such a drive in our test lab to verify this claim but if correct, the Flash disk would be about twice as fast as the latest 1.8" hard drive generation, which was measured at a read speed of 24 MB/s by the engineers of Tom's Hardware. The acceleration is most likely not enough to enable instant-on computers, but we would expect Windows computers to cut the system boot time at least in half.

Pure performance is only half the story of a SSD; the drive's light weight (15g), noiseless operation and a reduced power consumption may be even more important in most mobile applications. Samsung says that the Flash disk consumes only 0.1W when not in use and just 0.5W under load. For comparison, a typical mobile hard drive consumes somewhere between 1W and 2W of power in seek, read and write processes and between 0.2W and 0.8W when idle. Samsung may be a bit optimistic that the SSD uses just 5% of the electricity needed to power a hard disk drive, but it is clear that SSD will provide a substantial additional amount of battery time in mobile devices. In a common model that assumes that a hard drive consumes about 10-20% of the battery power, the SSD could add about 20-40 minutes of operating time in a notebook that runs about 4 hours on one battery charge.

Samsung did not provide a specific introduction date of the drive, but mentioned that it would offer 32 GB SSDs "soon." There was no detailed information on how much the drive will cost.

In a statement to TG Daily, Don Barnetson, director of Flash marketing at Samsung said that "pricing of Samsung's SSDs will be market determined, based on the cost of the underlying flash components at time of shipment. The assembly cost of the SSD is very small in comparison to the flash component cost, thus we believe it to be an attractive medium for customers who choose to take their notebooks to the next level and go entirely solid state." He mentioned that Samsung "does not expect to replace 50 - 60 GB hard drives with SSDs soon, due to flash's price premium." Intstead, the company is aiming for the sub-notebook market that typically requires 8 - 16 GB capacities. In this segment, SSDs are believed to "be cost effective over the next 12 months," he said.

However, the fact that Samsung aggressively moves into the mass storage space (see: Hybrid hard drives: Can Samsung and Microsoft invent a new market for 2007?) and Flash prices are forecasted to experience sharp drops, leads us to believe that the 32 GB device announced today will be priced significantly below (commercial grade) SSDs and hit the market in a price range between $750 and $1000 when introduced.

Flash disks that are offered today are almost exclusively sold into enterprise, military and government markets and offer higher performance and often more extreme temperature ratings than Samsung's mass market SSD. One of the few 32 GB Flash disks on the market is currently sold by Silicon Systems: The device comes in a PCMCIA form-factor and is priced around $6400. Other commercial SSDs include Adtron's (2.5") Flashpak, which is available in a 4 GB version for $546 and in an 8 GB variant for $1900.