Time for an SSD? Intel drops 120GB to $249

Intel has introduced its most competitively priced solid-state drive to date, in an attempt to lure customers to this speedy storage option. Will consumers bite?

On Friday, Intel introduced its most competitively priced solid-state drive yet and will be selling the drive to consumers through major retail outlets. Are SSDs finally becoming a worthy upgrade?

Intel's 120GB solid-state drive goes for $249. Still pricey compared to HDDs but much more reasonable than a couple of years ago for this speedy storage technology
Intel's 120GB solid-state drive goes for $249. Still pricey compared to HDDs but much more reasonable than a couple of years ago for this speedy storage technology. Intel

The Intel X25-M 120GB Solid-State Drive is set to be offered at Best Buy and Fry's Electronics for a suggested retail price of $249. Newegg is already selling the drive. Competitive SSDs would include a 128GB drive for $269 from Crucial.

Though still pricey by traditional spinning hard disk drive standards (1 terabyte desktop HDDs can be had for less than $100), it's a dramatic change from two years ago when Intel was selling its 160GB SSD for $945.

And now that drive is being sold at a suggested retail price of $415.

Generally, the allure of SSDs--which use flash memory--is that they can be extremely fast, leaving traditional hard disks in the dust when reading data, and can be more practical from a pure technological standpoint. Particularly in thin laptop designs like the new MacBook Air or Sony Vaio X series that cannot accommodate the relative bulk and heat of a standard hard disk.

Price has been the primary reason solid-state drives have failed to take the storage world by storm since their introduction to the mainstream consumer in January 2008 with the debut of the MacBook Air. That packed a 64GB SSD, sending the initial price of the high-end Air at that time to almost $3,000.

Times have changed, of course, with the new 11-6-inch MacBook Air selling for $1,199 with a 128GB flash drive. And an increasing number of laptops from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Toshiba, and Sony are sold with an SSD option. But it's still a pretty stark choice for many consumers. If a buyer opts for a 128GB SSD in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the price jumps $300 over the standard higher-capacity 320GB hard disk. Add 512GB of solid-state drive storage to the 13-inch Pro, and it leaps a whopping $1,400.

There may be a more cost-conscious alternative, however. Hybrid drives, which combine spinning disks with flash memory, are expected to become more prevalent. Seagate, for example, offers a 500GB Momentus XT hard disk with flash added for extra speed. It sells today for $129.

For its part, Intel is trying to make the migration to SSDs as smooth as possible. The Intel drive also includes a free cloning utility--Intel Data Migration Software, which assists in transferring information from the old hard drive, including operating systems, applications, documents, and personal settings. It can be downloaded free of charge here.

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