We have to be clear on one thing: 1.8” drives aren’t capable of breaking speed records. Portable computer systems that are based on 2.5” drives or even flash SSD technology deliver a better usage experience. However, 1.8” hard drives, such as the three product generations from Toshiba we looked at, currently deliver a nice mixture of high capacity (up to 320GB), a small form factor, adequate performance, and relatively low cost.
Flash memory surely beats mechanical hard drives in the performance segment, where you want minimum latencies and throughput of 200+ MB/s. Flash memory is also capable of beating hard drives in the budget space. Any budget system or netbook will be able to hit all time low cost levels when it’s paired with only 8 or 16 GB mainstream flash memory. However, such a capacity isn’t really attractive for consumers and performance will be lower than what the current 1.8” drive generation can provide.
Toshiba proves that there is still a development path for 1.8” hard drives and 320GB probably won’t be the last capacity point. As long as storage densities continue to develop at least at the speed at which flash memory moves, then there is room for the 1.8” format. At least all the fully-featured MP3 players and UMPC solutions currently cannot exist without 1.8” drives for the mentioned reasons.
Finally we’d like to point at the fact that it is imperative for performance reasons to always go for the latest hard drive products, as there are clear incremental improvements from one generation to the next. Maximum storage densities typically enable maximum performance as well. This also applies even if you go for a mainstream capacity point.