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Thursday, 04 January 2007 17:50

Sandisk launches 32Gb flash drive, competes with Samsung and hard disk drives

Samsung were the first in the consumer world to release a notebook with a large flash drive instead of a hard drive, despite the military having had access to 3.5-inch 165Gb flash drives for US $8000 two years ago, already. Still, the war between flash and hard disk storage continues apace!

Last year, Samsung launched a 32gb flash disk to replace hard drives in one of their laptops, but in 2007, Sandisk is doing the same, and we’ll definitely be hearing more about it and other developments in the world of flash and hard drives at the CES show in Las Vegas next week.

Given that Sandisk is also one of the world’s largest flash manufacturers, who also hold several important patents of their own, Sandisk have the same kind of manufacturer power as Samsung when it comes to having more than enough flash memory on hand to create whatever kind of flash device they want, and launch it when they want to.

Proponents of flash talk about how it will give you more battery life, and how it’s faster than a hard drive, but the reality seems to be only a 10% increase in battery life, which will a great thing, is still not that revolutionary. No doubt this will improve, but you’d think it’d be more than a 10% increase. Well, apparently not.

There are also reports that it is faster, and while benchmarks have shown that it is indeed faster, it doesn’t automatically turn your laptop into any more of a speed demon that it already should be.

One thing to note, however, is that laptops tend to use 4200RPM hard drives, and sometimes faster 5200RPM drives. If you had a faster hard drive, speed difference would be less, although you’d probably expect to use more battery power with a faster drive.

Sandisk aren’t selling the drive direct to consumers just yet – it’s only on sale to notebook manufacturers. Sandisk expects notebooks with their drive to appear sometime in the first six months of this year.

The cost of the drive is not yet publicly known, but reports say it is expected to add US $600 to the cost of a notebook. That’s nearly $1000 in Australian dollars and would currently be a big impediment to mass sales – especially if there’s only a 10% increase in battery life, and a likelihood of 32Gb being a smaller size than you’d get with an actual hard drive.

Interestingly, the Sandisk flash drive comes in a 1.8-inch configuration, instead of the usual 2.5-inch seen in most notebook drives, but naturally the smaller size is better as it more easily fits into UMPC, ultraportable and even regular size notebooks where a smaller drive leaves space to squeeze in other things.

Please read on to page 2 for the conclusion... 

Hard drive manufacturers are also working on putting flash memory into their hard drives to act as a cache. But all makers of flash memory have to worry about the lifecycle of flash memory. Newer flash drives have much longer read/write cycles than before, with reports of flash drives that handle up to 1 million cycles instead of just 100,000.

There’s no word yet on how many cycles the new Sandisk 32gb flash drive can handle, when we find out we’ll let you know, as it is an important issue.

However it must be remembered that hard drives have an MTBF or ‘mean time between failure’ of over 1 million hours these days – some models, anyway – and so aren’t invincible either and will also eventually die.

Hard drive manufacturers are also working hard at increasing the capacity that individual hard disks will hold. Already 2.5-inch hard drives have broken the 200Gb barrier, with companies like Seagate and Hitachi claiming lots of work being done in the hard disk space to dramatically boost storage capacities between now and 2010, less than 3 years away.

Whatever happens in the war between flash and hard drives, flash is here to stay, and presents a credible alternative to hard disk technology. Set to only get better, not only might you next notebook have at least 1Gb of flash loaded into its hard drive, but it might come with no moving-parts hard drive at all.

From a time when 5Mb hard drives were the size of washing machines decades ago to  some modern computers no longer needing a hard drive at all, in the realm of technology, the future certainly is bright!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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