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Flash drives-- now a pricey but reasonable option

Samsung introduces a 64GB flash drive for notebooks

Samsung announced this week that it has begun producing a 64GB flash drive for notebook computers.

Although 32GB flash drives have been on the market for several months, most users need more storage, especially in Vista-based notebooks. I think the new 64GB drives will find a much larger market.

Samsung didn't announce a price for the new drive, but 32GB drives have been selling for around $500 as an upgrade for a few notebook models from Dell and other OEMs. The new drives will probably decline to that price over the next several months.

Meanwhile, of course, conventional hard disks continue to expand in capacity. I just ordered a 250GB hard disk for my MacBook Pro; it was only $279 including an external drive enclosure I can use with my old HD. (I'll report on the results when I install it.) An 80GB notebook hard disk is now a sub-$60 item.

So why go with a flash drive if it's seven to ten times as expensive for the same capacity?

Two reasons may make up the difference: power and reliability. A flash drive will give significantly better battery life; the smaller and more sophisticated the notebook, the greater the improvement. A flash drive will also survive accidents that would kill a hard disk.

But I reject the conventional notion that a customer should have to choose between a flash drive and a hard disk. I'd like to see notebook computers with room for one of each. Not just the hybrid hard disks now being offered by Samsung (which Microsoft refers to as ReadyDrive technology) or Microsoft's related ReadyBoost technology, where a flash drive acts as a cache for a hard disk.

Both approaches are good ideas, getting significant benefits from small amounts of flash memory-- a gigabyte or less-- but I'd like to see notebooks where a large flash drive is made available as an independent logical drive on the system. This way, files can be distributed according to their access characteristics. Files that see a lot of random reads-- the OS, applications, email data files, the virtual-memory swap file, etc.-- can be put on the flash drive. The hard disk would only need to spin up to transfer large media files, make backups of modified files from the flash drive, and other accesses that involve long sequential reads and writes.

This approach isn't practical with just a gig or two of flash, but with 32GB or 64GB, it starts making good sense. Within a few years, that much flash will be fairly affordable, especially for high-end notebooks. It'll also be smaller, allowing OEMs to tuck it into any open area inside the machine.

The combination will provide the best of both flash and rotating storage-- high capacity, low power, and high reliability. There's a cost factor to consider, but premium notebooks sell very well; there are many customers who will pay for such tangible benefits.

I know I would!