32GB solid state disk comes to UK notebooks

It might be five times more expensive but Samsung claims its flash disk is faster, cooler and more reliable than traditional hard drives

Samsung's 32GB solid state notebook drive is now available in the UK through distributor Just Rams, the company said on Tuesday.

Unlike regular hard drives, solid state drives (SSDs) contain no moving parts. Hence they are faster, more reliable and consume less power, which means they run cooler and help boost battery life. They also cost over five times more, with the 32GB Samsung unit priced at £350 plus VAT, compared with £65 for a regular 100GB hard disk.

The device is based on 4Gb flash memory chips, and Samsung's manager for flash marketing, Ralf Ebert, said 8Gb chips are now available and should appear in a 64GB SSD in June or July. This will cost roughly twice as much as the 32GB model and, while it is technically possible to double up the memory chips in the device to achieve a 128GB drive, the cost, at roughly £1,400, would be too high for most customers.

"This year is about 32GB," said Ebert, who expects to ship roughly 70,000 this year. "We double the density [of memory chips] year-on-year," he added, and Samsung plans to increase capacities as the market grows, trying to keep the price point roughly steady.

Given that prices of flash memory and hard disk drives experience a similar downward trend, the price differential is likely to remain, conceded Sanjiv Kotecha of Just Rams. The drive is likely to attract very tech-savvy buyers who want faster boot times, more reliable laptops or better battery life. "It's not about bigger capacities," he added. "We also anticipate demand from IT departments who spend time rebuilding notebooks after crashes. It is still early days, but we expect demand to grow rapidly."

The Samsung drive weights 51g — roughly half the weight of a mechanical 2.5-inch hard disk, and consumes 0.5 watts, compared with 2.4 watts. Ebert said this can translate to up to 15 percent longer battery life in a notebook PC. The mean time before failure is guaranteed at one million hours, although the nature of SSDs makes it difficult to compare this directly with mechanical hard disks. In mechanical hard disks it is usually the read/write heads that fail. In an SSD it is individual memory cells in the grid that makes up the chip.

The Samsung SSD uses a technique called wear levelling to spread the load of erase/write cycles over all cells on the chip, rather than starting at the same point each time. As cells fail, the controller ignores them. "Over the lifetime of the disk you could in theory see the capacity shrink," said Ebert, "though this would only be a miniscule amount".

SSDs are also likely to find applications in servers, where heat dissipation is a perennial problem.


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