Diskless PowerBooks on the horizon

Diskless PowerBooks on the horizon

Summary: Apple should invest R&D resources into eliminating the hard drive from PowerBooks.

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TOPICS: Apple
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It would be great if Apple seriously considered creating a diskless PowerBook. They should ditch the fixed disk (or Winchester) hard drive forever in favor of Flash or Non-Volatile Read Write Memory (NVRWM) in their portable offerings.

The hand writing is on the wall. After trashing flash-based MP3 players for years in favor of the disk-based iPod, Steve Jobs sucked it up and announced the flash-based iPod shuffle at Macworld Expo on January 11, 2005. When that was met with luke warm reviews for its small capacity and lack of display Apple answered critics with the iPod nano in September 2005.

The benefits to a diskless PowerBook are obvious. In early estimates, the battery life saved from removing hard drive motors and read/write arms is significant. This will also allow Apple to build much thinner and lighter machines (PowerBook nano, anyone?) Since they have made significant progress in their active/passive cooling techniques, they can probably squeeze a significant amount of the newest technology Flash chips in the place of a hard drive.

Apple could easily release their first portable without a hard drive by replacing it with upgradeable flash memory cards that vary in size. They've got a steady stream of cheap flash chips guaranteed through 2010 and they should be investing significant R&D resources to this end.

Topic: Apple

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27 comments
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  • Seriously?

    Let's see, my PowerBook came with a 100 Gb hard drive. How
    much is a 100 Gb flash memory card going to cost? Closest I can
    find is this 90 Gb flash drive:

    http://www.engadget.com/entry/1365152172761463/

    And it only costs $40,000
    tic swayback
    • Yes, seriously

      They obviously won't be able to replace 80/100/120 GB portable drives with flash memory right away - it's simply not cost effective.

      But they could, start with a 20/40/60 GB falsh model (say, in the iBook) pretty easily.

      And don't forget that Apple has a pretty sweet deal with Samsung to buy cheap flash. Sweet enough that the other vendors are crying foul.

      The other option is for some sort of a hybrid flash/hdd option. The PowerBook boots from the flash memory and only writes to the HDD when it needs to. This would be the instant on scenario.

      Another option still would be a completely new model with flash memory, say a subnotebook, or a tablet. Not completely out of the realm of possibility.

      - Jason O'Grady
      Jason D. O'Grady
      • A good place for the OS

        I think it would good to see a start, but believe that the cost of the
        flash would keep it to a minimal level. It is, however, a great place
        to put OS X, user preferences & settings and, with luck, an effective
        disk repair app. If there was room on the stock version, or a BTO
        addition, it would also be a good place for storing your primary
        apps that are disk intensive. I also see an option for having a
        secondary copy of an app on the HD in case there is a Flash failure.
        Ken_z
        • Might also be good for "Instant On" and "Media Mode"

          As I posted in another comment, Flash memory would enable a cool "Instant On" feature and possibly a minimimal OS mode so that you could simply play iTunes or watch a DVD without booting all od Mac OS X. Just some food for thought, but flash = cool.
          -Jason
          Jason D. O'Grady
          • significant

            I think lots of folks underestimate the significance of this -- instant on / off would change the way people use portables, in fact the whole user experience (not to mention way less paranoia about dropping or knocking them). I'd happily take a big drop in storage space for a nifty flash based 12 inch Powerbook -- any large files (and music) are at home or on external media anyway, and remote storage options like .Mac seem to be catching on to boot.
            0369
    • Good point - but I do wonder

      Good point - and all this is still rumor, BTW.

      I don't know about a PowerBook, but it may be possible to create something along the lines of the iBook with as little as 10 GB.

      And it may be possible to use 4 GB for the OS, and a real harddrive for everything else.

      But then again, this is all merely rumor. Take with a shaker of salt.
      CobraA1
      • A little bit more than just a rumor

        There's actually decent evidence that Apple has this in the labs, but that's all I can say about it for now ;)
        Jason D. O'Grady
      • Swap space

        ---I don't know about a PowerBook, but it may be possible to
        create something along the lines of the iBook with as little as 10
        GB.---

        OSX needs a good amount of free disc space to work well, so I'm
        not sure how feasible this would be.
        tic swayback
  • Reminds me of my TRS-80 Model 100 from years ago...

    I loved that little machine. From what I understand, there's still an entire used/aftermarket industry wrapped around it. Apparantly it's indisposable to reporters and such.
    BitTwiddler
  • OK, WHERE'S the HANDHELD?

    If OS/X is SO great, and can run on InHell processors, then WHY NOT run on the Xscale? You could make the first "handhelds" as subnotebooks - akin to the eMate form factor. In this way you could have the entire product line offering from iPod flash to Super Titanium Powerbooks! This would be a COOL idea!

    Oh, I forgot, the Newton murderer is still in charge. :(
    Roger Ramjet
  • Flash HDD/Modular Storage: New Paradrigm?

    Perhaps it would be possible for them to build a machine that's, say, 80GB running off of 8 10GB flash cards?
    1 card would have to be dedicated to the OS, prefs, and essential files, but some of the others could be ejectable and hot-swapable with other computers and high-end media players.

    I know it's just a Pipe Dream, but it would revolutionary. And pretty damn helpful.
    CKayote
  • You smoking something ?

    It's already bad enough that the pricing between the Mac and PC is so different. They are starting to make some headway with their entry level products now and you wanted them to replace their HD with FLASH memories ? How much do you think 40G of FLASH memory will COST vs a 40G SATA HD ?

    Who would pay for something like this ? Where's the market ?
    JJ_z
    • Not smoking anything, it's in the tea leaves

      If you look carefully at Apple's recent moves into Flash (nano, Sammy partnership, etc.) you see the beginning of a paradigm shift. I'm not saying that it's going to happen overnight or tomorrow, but it's plausible that Apple will use Flash memory in their portables.

      It may just be for a boot partition initially. 4GB of flash would hold Mac OS X and make the portables "instant on" - which is nice. It would also enable a sort of "media only" mode, whereby you could listen to iTunes or even watch a DVD without spinning up the HDD - great for transcontinental flights.

      Apple's all into flash these days, I don't think that it's just for nanos.

      -Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
  • re-post this story in Dec '06 or Dec '07

    This isn't just a good idea for Apple. All laptop manufacturers will
    have flash memory replacing hard drives when the memory/cost
    ratio becomes more favorable. The writing is on the wall: flash
    memory is smaller, more durable, dependable, energy efficient, and
    faster than conventional hard-drives. The only barrier is price.
    Re-post your thoughts in a year or two and you'll be dead-on.
    stanshih
    • I guess we'll have to wait and see

      ...maybe I'm a bit ahead of my time, but no one really knows the terms of the deal that Apple did wwith Samsung. We *do* know that they pre-payed over 1 billion dollars.

      Who pre-pays for anything these days? Especially a huge multi-national conglomorate like Apple Computer? I bet that they demand net 90 terms from most of their suppliers _because they can_. "You want to list Apple as a client? Then we'll pay you when we get around to it."

      Don't rule out flash too soon, let's see just how good of a price they got from Sammy and let the chips fall where they may (sorry, had to do it.)

      One thing's for sure though, I know a lot of people that would line up (and pay just about anything) for a super-thin, super-light, instant-on PowerBook nano. Don't you?

      -Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
  • Didn't they do that once before?

    I seem to remember a little product from Apple a few years back called the eMate that was essentially a diskless laptop/PDA. It was a great concept, but it was killed off along with the Newton product line, on which it was based. Oh well, the Mac Cube was a flop until they made it smaller and brought it back as the Mac Mini.
    etpowell
  • What A Stupid Idea!

    Why don't we also include a 23-inch LCD with this PowerBook
    running for only 5 minutes on battery while we are at it?

    Do you know how expensive that would be--to build a
    PowerBook with 80-100GB of flash memory storage?

    A current 15-inch PowerBook with that kind of flash memory
    storage would at least cost $20,000 USD.

    That's right. That's 10 PowerBooks in 15-inch LCD display.

    What A Stupid Idea!

    But, it could happen.

    Perhaps in 10 years.
    georgelien
  • Flash memory

    Problems with Flash memory:
    1. It can only be re-written about 10,000 times from what I've read. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.
    2. It's still cost pro-hibitive.

    Future for Flash memory:
    1. Samsung announced earlier this fall that they will have 16Gbit Flash chips available by the end of next year. These can be used to make 32GByte flash memory cards. Pricing has not been announced.
    http://news.zdnet.co.uk/hardware/storage/0,39020366,39217968,00.htm
    2. Microsoft Windows Vista is being designed to use combo flash memory/hard disk drives. A new hard drive unit is coming that will feature a flash component as well as the traditional disk component. This enables "instant-on" capability for the computer (The core OS loads from flash while the disk spins up) as well as longer battery life for portables (files can be saved to flash until the cache is full then written to disk - the disk doesn't run as often, saving power). I'm sure Apple could use the same technology for their computers.
    brilang
    • Re; Flash memory

      {{Microsoft Windows Vista is being designed to use combo flash memory/hard disk drives. A new hard drive unit is coming that will feature a flash component as well as the traditional disk component. This enables "instant-on" capability for the computer (The core OS loads from flash while the disk spins up) as well as longer battery life for portables (files can be saved to flash until the cache is full then written to disk - the disk doesn't run as often, saving power). I'm sure Apple could use the same technology for their computers.}}

      Come on! It has to be feasible (although I admit that it would be enormously expensive for the first models) if Microsoft is planning ahead for it.
      I think there's a good chance that this time next year the big gift'll be a dell or ibook nano. Or the Nintendo Revolution.
      CKayote
  • Samsung

    Not only does Samsung plan to have 16 Gbit chips next year, but they are already working on 32 Gbit chips. We could see a Ram based Powerbook within a year.
    georgep_z