A flash drive in your future?

The good, the bad and the uglyI've been a huge fan of flash ever since I plunked down $400 for a 10 MB compact flash card in the early '90s for my brand-spanking new HP Omnibook 300. Light and built like a tank, the 300's chiseled abs flash drive almost doubled battery life to over 10 hours.

The good, the bad and the ugly I've been a huge fan of flash ever since I plunked down $400 for a 10 MB compact flash card in the early '90s for my brand-spanking new HP Omnibook 300. Light and built like a tank, the 300's chiseled abs flash drive almost doubled battery life to over 10 hours. And the sleep mode actually worked - the only Windows notebook I've used that did.

I was finally forced to retire the 300 after using it daily for over five years due to software bloat. But the warm glow of a really tough, light and reliable notebook - I think it was designed by HP's calculator division - how about an encore, Mark - has kept me hoping for a general return of flash drives.

It looks like my time has come. Almost. Starting later this year.

Despite announcements, few products Flash vendors have been making plenty of announcements, but few show up at Fry's. The OEM announcements are designed to entice notebook vendors, not you and me. With the Sony VAIO G1 flash version, that is finally starting to change.

What to expect? The good:

  • Faster boot times and app and document loads.
  • Fast large-block writes.
  • 2-4 ounces lighter.
  • Wear-leveling works: the fact that SLC flash can only handle a couple of hundred thousand read/write cycles won't be an issue for notebook users as the flash will last as long as hard drives. I've done the math.
  • .

The bad:

  • Only 30-60 minutes more battery life. Why? In today's laptops the drive is less than a quarter of the load, way less if you've got energy saving features turned on. Reducing drive load to zero buys something, but not as much as it did with my Omnibook.
  • Lower capacity than hard drives - largest flash disk is 64 GB.

The ugly:

  • Random write performance is so poor that vendors don't quote numbers. And Windows and Mac OS turn most reads into a read and a write.
  • Cost: even with flash prices dropping 70% a year, flash is still 10-40x disk. It will catch up, but not this decade.

The Storage Bits take Flash drives will usher in a new era of long-life ultra-light notebooks, but only as part of a total system redesign. The rumored MacBook Nano will be such a clean sheet design, using a flash drive, LED backlighting, ultra low voltage Core Solo and the latest low-voltage wireless chip to create an ultralight notebook with well over 6 hour battery life.

Comments welcome, of course.

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