Samsung unveils 32GB Flash hard drive

Samsung pushes on with a hard drive made of flash memory chips, but it won't be replacing hard disks just yet

Samsung is planning to shake up the hard drive market with a 32GB drive that uses NAND flash memory chips rather than magnetic platters.

The South Korean company formally launched its 32GB flash hard drive on Tuesday, having demonstrated the device at CeBIT earlier this month. Based on the company's own 50nm architecture and 3D transistor structure, the drive uses 16 2GB chips and is promised for production later this year. If successful, this will leapfrog the immediate competition from miniature hard-disk drives, with Hitachi saying its 20GB Microdrive won't be out until 2007.

Last year, Samsung unveiled a 16GB version, which it said could replace mini laptop hard drives. It has forecast that by 2008, one third of laptops will use solid-state hard drive, rather than rotating magnetic disks: Intel among others have predicted that NAND flash will be used in conjunction with hard disks, caching boot and system files to decrease start-up time and power consumption.

NAND flash memory is typically used today in USB memory sticks, digital music players and digital cameras. Although it is faster and uses less power than hard disks, it will only work for a limited number of writes. The Samsung parts are guaranteed for 100,000 program/erase cycles, well below that required for heavily used elements of storage such as the Windows virtual memory file. Error correction, block rotation and smart caching mechanisms can minimise this but can't eliminate it as a problem.

Also, 32GB of NAND flash is much more expensive than the equivalent disk-based hard drive. At present, 1GB of NAND flash costs around $30, compared to around 70 cents for 1GB of disk.

Earlier this week, flash memory maker Hynix warned that NAND chip prices could halve during the first half of 2006.