Fujitsu adopts flash memory for new tablets

Flash drives are expensive and hold less data, but for tablet PCs, which tend to get dropped a lot, they can be a good fit. Photos: Flash-based LifeBooks

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

Tablet PCs probably get dropped more than other computers, so Fujitsu has created two machines that store data by using flash memory rather than traditional hard drives.

The LifeBook P1610 and LifeBook B6210 are now available with either 16GB or 32GB flash drives. The P1610 weighs 2.2 pounds, while the larger B6210 weighs a pound more. The P1610 is a convertible, meaning the screen can be pivoted over the keyboard to hide it. The B6210 is a touch-screen notebook.

Flash-based tablet PCs constitute a small piece of a niche market, but the two technologies marry well. Flash memory drives hold far less data than regular hard drives, but consume less power.

Flash drives are also more reliable, according to advocates; you could drop a flash-memory computer or camera from an airplane and the drive would probably survive. M-Systems, bought by SanDisk last year, produced flash drives for Israel's armed services for years.

Samsung, Micron Technology and other flash memory manufacturers are aiming for notebooks as their next big market. Many of these companies have recently opened manufacturing facilities, which will force them to find new markets.

Unfortunately for flash makers, flash is also comparatively expensive. At the wholesale level, every gigabit of at least seven times as much as the same storage space on hard drives, and both technologies continue to drop rapidly in price. SanDisk has come out with two flash drives for the consumer market: one adds $600 to notebook costs, the other adds $350.

Hard drives can store a lot of material--a significant advantage, particularly in the consumer market, according to drive makers. Notebooks typically come with 80GB to 120GB drives. At 32GB, the Fujitsu notebooks hold less data than a lot of MP3 players. Microsoft recommends that PCs have 15GB available for loading the new Vista operating system.

By putting the flash drives into tablets, Fujitsu is insulating itself to some degree from size and price disadvantages. Consumers don't typically buy tablets; corporate IT departments buy them for employees like delivery personnel and sales representatives who are working in the field. Corporate IT managers don't care as much if the notebook doesn't have enough storage space available to hold several hundred MP3 songs and some pirated movie clips.

Nonetheless, price is an issue, and Fujitsu did not provide prices. The company did, however, release a $139 case for the two computers.

 

Correction: This story misidentified the LifeBook B6210 as a convertible notebook. It is a touch-screen notebook.
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