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Will that Dell solid-state drive be regular or ultra?

Dell's new E4200 ultraportable notebook comes with two flavors of solid-state drives. Consumers will now have at least a couple of performance options.

Regular or ultra? Consumers will now have at least a couple of performance options when they order solid-state drives on the newest ultraportable notebooks from Dell.

Dell Latitude E4200
Dell Latitude E4200 Dell Computer

Hard disk drives are getting scarcer by the week in the ultraportable notebook market. Dell has officially started selling its new 2.2-pound Latitude E4200 this week with solid-state drives as the only storage option, accelerating a trend in ultraportables away from hard disk drives.

The popular ThinkPad X301 also comes with solid-state drive options only.

The SSD options on the E4200 come in two flavors, standard or "Ultra".

Dell pre-announced the high-performance Samsung Ultra SATA-II solid-state drive in February. The SSD is able to read data at 100 megabytes per second (MB/sec) and write it at 80MB/sec, 60 percent faster than SATA I drives, according to Samsung.

The new SSDs will "leave traditional notebook hard drives in the dust," Dell said when it announced the option. "Our labs benchmarked this drive in a Latitude notebook and saw a 35 percent overall system performance increase over a standard 2.5-inch 5400rpm notebook hard drive using SYSmark '07. That's even more impressive when you realize that the difference between standard 5400rpm and performance 7200rpm drives (in the same generation) is 10 percent on average," Dell said at that time.

Dell's Ultra drive has approximately 20 percent better read/write performance over more conventional SSDs, according to Avi Cohen, managing partner at Avian Securities. And Dell gets its SSDs from sources other than just Samsung, including STEC and Micron Technology, Cohen believes.

SSDs are generally much faster than hard disk drives at reading data (which is what computer users spend most of their time doing). SSDs are becoming popular in ultraportable notebooks because they have advantages crucial for small laptops: they weigh less, generally use less power, generate less heat, and withstand shock better.

Samsung chart comparing SSDs to HDDs. Samsung also makes hard disk drives. Samsung

The new SATA II SSD can resist up to 1,500 Gs of shock in a half millisecond compared with a shock resistance rating of 300 Gs in 2 milliseconds for a typical HDD, Samsung said.

Intel is getting into the SSD performance grade act too. The chipmaker offers Extreme SSDs and mainstream SSDs.

Extreme SSDs offer faster write speeds of up to 170 MB/s, while mainstream drives are rated at up to 70 MB/s, according to Intel.

The 80GB and 160GB Intel SSDs for the mainstream notebook market are based on multilevel cell (MLC) technology, while the Extreme 32GB and 64GB for the enterprise market are based on single-level cell (SLC). In 2009, Intel expects to have MLC drives with capacities up to 320GB.

MLC allows drive makers to build higher-capacity drives at lower cost but is neither as fast as SLC nor as inherently reliable.