MacBook Air flash-only rivals are few, fading

The new Air is unique for Apple, being its first flash-only MacBook. But most rivals offering ultraportable lines with solid-state-only storage are few and those lines are not exactly thriving.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Apple's new Air is the first flash-only MacBook. So, how does it stack up against the handful of laptop lines out there that offer only solid-state drives?

Dell's ultra-svelte Adamo line has been SSD-only since the start but has been reduced to one model.
Dell's ultra-svelte Adamo line has been SSD-only since the start but has been reduced to one model. Dell

Well, it's actually not a very pretty picture for other laptop lines based on flash memory only, or more commonly referred to as solid-state drives (SSDs). A few previously prominent laptops have either been phased out or are languishing.

Dell Adamo: This line of 0.65-inch thick aluminum-clad ultraportables from Dell have been SSD-only from day one. So, Dell actually beat Apple to the punch in this respect. But the line has been reduced to a single $999 model with a 128GB SSD--the higher-end Adamo with a 256GB SSD and faster processor is no longer available from Dell. And the novel Adamo XPS is no longer available for sale on Dell's Web site--this was SSD only too.

Dell Latitude E4200: Announced in August 2008, this line of pricey business ultraportables is still available and comes standard with only 128GB SSDs. Prices start at $1,729.

Lenovo ThinkPad X300/X301: The venerable ThinkPad X300 was from its inception SSD only. Alas, this line has been discontinued. Lenovo still offers comparable X series Thinkpads and IdeaPads but none are SSD only.

Sony Z series: The Z line is alive and well, thank you. Z laptops come with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB options, with prices ranging from about $1,800 to well over $3,000.

Toshiba R500/R600: The Toshiba R500, now quite dated (first announced in June 2007), features only flash storage but the specs are a little long in the tooth, namely its older U7600 Intel processor and Windows Vista operating system. The R600, essentially a newer version of the R500, is SSD-centric--models are featured on Toshiba's Web site with a 512GB SSD for a whopping $3,499 --but not exclusively flash anymore. Cheaper models based on traditional spinning hard disk drives can be found at online retailers.

So, with the exception of Apple and a few others, is the future of flash-storage-only laptops bleak? Well, it depends on how you look at it. Flash storage, in fact, is expected to be used in most laptops in the coming years, according to a report released Monday by Objective Analysis. But these will be hybrid drives composed of traditional spinning disks and a small amount of flash. That, of course, is only a forecast. If SSDs ever get close to parity with traditional HDDs on a cost-per-gigabyte basis, that would likely change. But that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future.