January 4, 2006 10:00 AM PST

Bye-bye hard drive, hello flash

The world as notebook users know it is about to change in a flash.

Manufacturers of NAND flash memory say they will expand the market for their chips over the next few years and colonize devices that now rely on hard drives or other types of memory. In turn, this could mean phones that can record several hours of video, or smaller notebooks with twice or more the battery life.

The NAND noise will be particularly strong at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas, with manufacturers showing off the solid-state technology as an increasingly important component in cell phones and talking up how it will find its way into notebook hard drives in 2006.


What's new:
Flash memory is on track for an ever larger role in gear like cell phones and notebook computers.

Bottom line:
Hard drives may have a cost advantage as a way to store data, but they're bulky, take longer to start up and use more energy. Plus, flash prices are dropping.

More stories on flash memory

By about the turn of the decade, NAND could even replace hard drives entirely in some mini notebooks because of the increasing amount of data the chips can hold, according to Steve Appleton, CEO of Micron Technology, one of the world's largest memory makers. Flash also takes up less space and uses less energy.

"The average notebook has 30GB (of hard drive storage). How long is it before the notebook has solid state memory? Five or six years," he said. "I'm not saying drives will go away. There will always be a need for storage, but when was the last time you tapped out a drive?"

Jim Handy, an analyst at Semico Research, says NAND won't replace notebook hard drives as long as Microsoft keeps expanding the number of storage-heavy features in its software, but it will become standard in video cameras, displacing tape, recordable DVDs and mini drives. Flash-based cameras, already a staple in Japan, are smaller, and the cost premium associated with the chips can be hidden in a $500 camera.

"Video is not a hard-drive area. I expect it will go with flash," Handy said.

NAND flash will also begin to appear in car navigation systems and play a role in large data storage systems at corporations and government agencies in the relatively near future, said Jon Kang, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics' technical marketing group. Kang's enthusiasm is understandable: Samsung is the world's largest maker of NAND in terms of bits shipped.

"It is really creating a boon in consumer applications," he said.

As with many other technologies before it, costs are coming down as capacities are heading up.

The NAND evolution fits the pattern established in Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a given chip will double every two years. Doubling the number of transistors on a memory chip allows manufacturers to put more memory cells on it.


Actually, the technology is moving a little faster than Moore's Law. A few years ago, NAND got produced on trailing-edge manufacturing lines. Now manufacturers are putting it on their cutting-edge processes. The shift has thus accelerated product development.

Currently, NAND chips double in memory density every year. The cutting-edge 4-gigabit chips of 2005, for example, will soon be dethroned by 8-gigabit chips. (Memory chips are measured in gigabits, or Gb, but consumer electronics manufacturers talk about how many gigabytes, or GB, are in their products. Eight gigabits make a gigabyte, so one 8Gb chip is the equivalent of 1GB.)

Another driving factor in the uptake of the technology is cost: NAND drops in price about 35 to 45 percent a year, due in part--again--to Moore's Law and in part to the fact that many companies are bringing on new factories. 1GB of flash costs a consumer electronics manufacturer about $45, said Handy. That will drop to $30 in next year, $20 in 2008 and $9 by 2009.

CONTINUED: Faster boot-up…
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Why are transfer rates ALWAYS ignored?
Frankly, the whole idea of storage costs dropping as technology improves is NOT new. This has been happening since the days of 16 KB of RAM costing $1,200 for the TRS-80. So hearding that a GB of RAM will cost $9 in 2009 is as much of a shock as hearing that a ten year old video card can't run "Half-Life 2". But I'm really getting tired of cost per megabyte always being the factor when these "Flash memory will replace hard drives" stories come about.

At the rate Microsoft and the other software vendors continue to bloat their software, even having 16 GB of RAM probably won't be enough in 2009. That's going to require a hell of a lot of flash memory bandwidth to make its use efficient and thus far flash memory has never been able to hold a candle to hard drives with respect to speed and I doubt that it will change any time soon. I'm sure that flash memory bandwidth will improve over time. But hard drive speeds will increase as well.

If history is any indicator, this might work for entry and mid-level systems, but that's about it. To read the article, you'd almost think that everything smaller than mid to enterprise level servers could get rid of hard drives.
Posted by JLBer (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree, but add...
"'The average notebook has 30GB (of hard drive storage). How long is it before the notebook has solid state memory? Five or six years,' he said. 'I'm not saying drives will go away. There will always be a need for storage, but when was the last time you tapped out a drive?'"

The average notebook/laptop *in use* today may have only a 30GB hard drive, but that would include systems sold 3 or 4 years ago. However, the average notebook/laptop *selling* today certainly does not. The average is certanly 50 GB or more and probably closer to 60 GB. In five or six years this will most certainly double or even quadruple. Thinking a notebook/laptop will have 120 GB of solidstate memory in five or six years is insane. It's not going to happen.

When was the last time I tapped out a hard drive on my laptop? Semi-regularly. I maxed out the 80GB I had a few months ago; did a lot of housecleaning; and tranferred everything to a new 100 GB. That should give me room for at least a year or so.
"Another driving factor in the uptake of the technology is cost: NAND drops in price about 35 to 45 percent a year, due in part--again--to Moore's Law and in part to the fact that many companies are bringing on new factories. 1GB of flash costs a consumer electronics manufacturer about $45, said Handy. That will drop to $30 in next year, $20 in 2008 and $9 by 2009."

So that 30 GB that was mentioned above will be $270 in 2009? This still does not sound like a realistic replacement for the hard drive in the laptop. And what I expect to be the average size of a laptop hard drive in 2009 (120 GB or more) will be $1,080 or more. More than half the cost of what could be considered an average professional laptop today.
"A hard drive developed by Samsung and Microsoft in which flash memory caches data for an idle hard drive will arrive in late 2006. The hybrid drive will extend battery life by 36 minutes, according to Samsung."

Wow! On my laptop which typically gets about four hours per charge will now get 4.5 hours per charge. For this I get to pay extra for flash a memory cache in the hard drive, plus royalties to Samsung and Microsoft? No thanks!

Besides, it sounds like something other vendors have been doing for years... even Apple uses this technique in their hard drive based iPods.
"'How would you like 15 hours of battery life on a notebook rather than three or four? What if you didn't have to go through that stupid boot-up sequence?'" said Appleton of Micron Technology. "'Anytime a solution for storage can be $50 or $60 or less, the mechanical guys are out and the solid-state guys are in.'"

As shown above, even the mythical 30 GB average hard drive replacement solid state memory will cost $270 in 2009. This is a far cry from $50 or $60 for solid state to replace hard drives. The $50 figure will only be maybe 6 GB in 2009. Maybe you could stick Windows 2009 (or maybe Windows Vista Service Pack 3) in there and it could be your "boot disk" but definitely not your main disk or scratch disk for swapping things in and out of RAM.

Every time one of these guys claim solid-state is going to do away with hard drives in computers (of any type beyond the **most minimum** configurations) all you have to do is look a micron below the surface to see it just does not add up.
Posted by shadowself (202 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong, wrong & wrong
First, flash technology is FASTER the HD. Being electronic and not mechnical it gives significantly faster access time. There are already talking about boosting applications load time using flash.

Second, while flash tops at 20 MB/sec read & right (M-Systems Disk-On-Key's), HD gives about x2 for reading. However, flash disk are easy to parallelized (being made from few chips). A flash disk could be build in a Raid-like array.

Third, flash disk will be used in ultra-thin notebook, lighter the the exsiting category, where space/heat/power consumption are critical. No one talk about desktop replacments.
Posted by nizanh (2 comments )
Link Flag
Always fun to go look at old predictions and see how they played out. 2009 solid state has not taken over yet but I'm betting as the article predicted they may take over by 2011 or 2012.


Not 1k :)
Posted by flyingmonkey350 (1 comment )
Link Flag
flash drives will never catch up to hard drive capacity
Flash drives will never catch up to hard drive capacity. Are we going to see 500gb flash drives at the same time as 500gb notebook hard drives? I seriously doubt it. Right now I could get a 1gb flash drive for my Compaq LTE 5400, which is a 9 year old laptop with a 1.3 gb hard drive. It's good to see that flash drives are about to pass the hard drive capacity of 9 year old laptops!!
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What about durability?
While flash drives have an advantage in speed and power savings, the limit to the number of times that a given cell can be re-written is troubling. I can imagine that from swap file operations alone that wearing out a flash drive would happen in pretty short order. Don't even get me started about temp files. :-)
Posted by mbednar (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree...
Durability is a major issue here. What I forsee happening is using two different types of memory. Use Flash as archival memory that stores the operating system and your programs, which don't change all that much. Use a harddrive to save user persistent data such has documents and operating system specific information. Use a RAM drive to store temp files and swap space since these are rarely needed on the next reboot.

There is a type of flash memory that can be written to 1,000,000 times before problems appear. It's called DataFLASH and Atmel puts it out the last time that I looked.
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Link Flag
What speed advantage?
Flash is getting faster, but transfer rates are much lower - and 15000 rpm HDD drives will not be beaten by any flash memory type so soon. HDD manufacturers are not yet pressed into a speed battle, but if they were, I can't see a way for flash to win in the next 10 years. Of course, it would be just lovely to have a miniature 2 TB solid state drive drive instead of the six 300 GB SATA drives I use now, but can't imagine flash memeory ever being in it - holography looks more promising
Posted by googey10 (27 comments )
Link Flag
performance as well as economics
This article is shortsighted in as much as it only speculates on the economics of the decision and ignores engineering considerations, such as:

access times (advantage hard drives)
transfer rates (advantage: hard drives)
power consumption (which would favor flash memory)
heat dissipation (which also favors flash memory)
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
access advantage flash?
I don't think so. Access times are in the milliseconds for hard drives, and much much less for flash.
Posted by Clouseau2 (329 comments )
Link Flag
Access time is not that important...
...for huge (eg. video) files, flash has fast access, but look at sustained transfer rates - flash is great for photography - but trying to do some real time editing of HD video? And to even imagine the cost of a huge flash - based 'drive' in 2009...
Posted by googey10 (27 comments )
Link Flag
Better Ways To Skin This Cat
The lack of creativity by these engineers is apalling. They have a hammer and everything looks like a nail. Bring back the slide rule, crew cut, pocket protector guys. Here's what I would do to crack this performance/battery life equation:

1) Variable speed hard drive. The hard drive should have selectable RPM. 7500 RPM or better when plugged into AC. 2500, 3500, or 4500 depending on users' choice of performance vs. battery life. For a lot of tasks, the HD doesn't need to spin as fast, and you can make use of deferred writes.

2) Buffer HD to RAM. I've got 700 meg of RAM on my laptop. Windows should give me the option to buffer several hundred megs off the HD to RAM for read-only operations. I just watched a 2 hour MPEG movie on my last flight. Why couldn't 20-30 minutes have been buffered to RAM and then the HD powered down? That is just stupid.

3) Faster bootup. Ever heard of Windows Hibernate to disk? You can shutdown in 1-2 minutes and power back up in about the same amount of time and resume your work right where you left off.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Eventually but a long ways down the road
Noted the coment from the person when was the last time you tapped out a Hard drives capacity. With the Macintosh gone to UNIX, and I am sure Mr Gates will have itfinally hit him in the head that UNIX or Linux is they way to go (if for no reason than to make it hard for all these security problems Windows has); software will get Larger and larger and Larger and more complex because UNIX tell the Machine "everything to do" where previously the Processors had a lot of the code burnt in. I can remeberr in the not to didstat past when I bought a 150mb Hard drive and thought I'd never run out, then just two years later I bought a 500mb Hard drive. My Current machine came with a 30 gb Drive. I added a 120Gb Drive for OSX. I've now surpassed the amount of space in that entire original hard drive and then some on my 120GB drive (I've used up about 45GB and I've oly had the addition drive since I installed OSX.2. If they can get 1 Terabyte Flash drives (and above) out for the price of or less of 120gb Drives now, maybe. But that's way down the road.
Posted by pjonesCET (42 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cost comparison HDD to flash
Let me add to the other skeptical comments. A standard
reference on cost/performance of hard disk drives and other
forms of storage is Ed Grochowski's graphs, <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://" target="_newWindow">http://</a>
hdd_technology2003.pdf. See page 3. The article shows flash
costs falling from $45/GB to $9 per GB by 2009. Over this
period, Grochowski's data suggests HDD storage costs will go
from $1/GB to below $.10/GB. The two-order-of-magnitude
cost gap between semiconductors and magnetic storage is
actually increasing. Flash will continue to do well in specific
applications where unit cost must be below $200, or small size
is critical, but in the forseeable future it won't displace HDDs in
full-function laptop computers.
Posted by Rbohn (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It could happen...
First, to all those who have been ripping this article to shreds,
let me point out the final quote:

"Sam Bhavnani at Current Analysis said most consumers will
continue to want big hard drives, but still, he added, "some
high-end ultraportables could go that way"--to flash--"in a few

High-end ultraportables. Not your run-of-the-mill $1000-or-
less laptop. Read the article before you crap your pants (and all
over this discussion).

Second, I actually think some of these predictions may be
understated. Last year, for the first time ever, laptops outsold
PCs, and the trend shows that sales margin to increase every
year. Additionally, processors and optical drives are becoming
more power consuming every generation. When you start talking
about fuel cell based laptop batteries (as many analysts have)
then you know something has to give. That creates a lot of
pressure on the NAND manufacturers to decrease production
costs and increase R&#38;D. The article here stated that the cost per
GB is dropping at a rate of 35%-45% per year. I honstely think
we'll see that increase to a drop of 55%-65% per year. $9 per GB
in 2009? Try $3-$4 per GB. $1,080 for a 120GB NAND may be
absurd, but $400 sure ain't... especially when it comes with
perks like a superfast boot time and ultra low power
Posted by No_Man (77 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The innovator dilemma
In the book "The innovator dilemma", Christensen studies the memory industry (mostly hard drive) and how we went from 11" HDD to 2.5".

It's a very interesting study about innovation and dominant designs for a given industry. Each new design of HDD started on a specific market segment where it slowly became competitive with the previous techno (the new design is usually less competitive at the beginnning : more expensive, less capacity, but grows faster).

Then, the new design moves to new market segments and kills the previous players. It wouldn't be surprising to see flash cards replacing HDD more and more.

This goes with a trend of getting pieces thats are sleeker and that have a better energetic efficience (Intel shows the path)
Posted by Hoedic (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
8 gb = 1 gb false
i thought 1 gb = 1gb
8 bits = 1 byte 1million bytes = 1MB 1000MB =1GB
1000GB= 1TB

BUT 1GB=1GB AND im sure that laptop hard drives will be alot bigger by then
Posted by kb9vgr (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are incorrect!
1 gigaBIT is the equivalent of 0.125 gigaBYTES!
So, .125 * 8 = 1!
A gigabit (read: Gb) and a gigabyte (read: GB) are different. The lowercase 'b' is the difference... well, that and that its only 1/8 of a gigabyte.

You should have read the story better since it says that in the article.

And for justification of my response:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/units/computer/computer.gibibit.en.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/units/computer/computer.gibibit.en.html</a>
Feel free to browse to that site. It has the conversion chart right there for use.
Posted by (6 comments )
Link Flag
HDD && NAND Flash are mediocre
This isn't terribly widely known, but a much better and much more cost-effective memory has been developed. Not only is it cheaper per gigabyte (it's they have removed their pricing for the item; I seem to recall it being about 50 cents). This memory is true RAM, unlike Flash which is not random. It also is non-volitile and static, meaning that power needn't be used to "refresh" the RAM and such. Finally, it takes up such little space, that a chip the size and format of a CFII card can store 1TB of data. The big kicker: they're also a booth at the CES. What is it? Quantum-Optical Memory, by a small (emphasis on small) fledgling company called AtomChip (www.atomchip.com). Of course, right now a TB of this stuff would cost something 512 bucks to manufacture, meaning end-user prices would be something like 1000 dollars per TB (which isn't too bad, considering the HDD equivalent.) The advantage comes in the fact that multiple RAIDs could be stored in the space of one hard drive today. And the r/w speed is much much much faster than today's hard drives (it is actual RAM, after all). Static RAM, superfast r/w, footprint of 6 postage stamps at a CD's thickness.

All this considered, I think it'll be a couple of years before the real "revolution" hits. AtomChip has begun manufacture of laptops utilizing these Quantum-Optical RAM chips as their only method of storage. Its rather interesting and extremely cutting-edge. Enjoy!
Posted by CNerd2025 (98 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AtomChip laptop: My pre-order is in!
Yeah AtomChip laptops are really going to fly off the shelves at $18,500 per!
Posted by locoHost (25 comments )
Link Flag
Its all bogus
Unfortunately, all this AtomChip stuff is bogus. If you look at the patents, the patentee lives in Old Westbury and the company is there too. Old Westbury happens to be the only town in NY that is 100% residential.
Posted by ranron (4 comments )
Link Flag
"... solid-state disks will be puny, pricey, and impractical "
From Jan 2006 IEEE Spectrum:
Loser: Too Little, Too Soon
Samsung's solid-state disks will be puny, pricey, and impractical
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jan06/2600" target="_newWindow">http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jan06/2600</a>
Posted by dwmccauley (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Confused :-s
An 4gbit chip is hardly cutting edge for 2005. I think he means Giga Byte (4000 Mega Bytes).
The author himself has become confused. Storage is NOT measured by the industry in bits, always in bytes. Bits are used most commonly to express transfer rates in computer networks and buses. (E.g. 100 Mbit/sec Ethernet)

Current transfer rates to high speed flash are around 80 mbit/sec. This will double by the second half of 2007. Expect 32GB flash memory chips in 24-36 months which will be 1/4 the size of the current Pro Duo model from Sony/SanDisk. (Ref. MemoryStick Micro/M2)
Posted by ukpm (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Switching from NOR to NAND requires rewriting code?
&gt; "Some manufacturers are even contemplating displacing NOR with NAND for code storage, although that requires rewriting code."

&gt; "It is a pain in the neck to switch software so people now use NOR"

I don't get it. Why would switching storage mechanisms require rewriting code? Can someone explain? Thanks.
Posted by ahalsey (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They are both coding terms.
In short, NAND stands for "Not And" and NOR stands for "Not OR" I can see where you conld be confused as there are also NAND and NOR gates in dealing with electronic circuits. These are quite easy to implement in Java code for instance (if !(A == 0 &#38;&#38; B == 0)) would be a Not And and (if !(A == 0 || B == 0)) would be a Not Or
Posted by TheTechKid (66 comments )
Link Flag
Different properties
NOR flash is faster to read than NAND flash and can execute code in place. The NAND flash is just storage and code would be copied to DRAM before it is executed.
Posted by clemh (1 comment )
Link Flag
With ubiquitous wifi you don't need huge storage - Web Tablet has arrived!
The growing ubiquity of wifi and AJAX web applications will make local storage on portable devices an archaic practice.

I don't want 200 GB of files on my laptop! I don't want to back them up. And I want to access them anywhere.

The embodiment of the Web Tablet concept has finally arrived: The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet.

The Nokia 770 is not a PDA; it is a network service access device. Store your images and music and documents on the net and access them anywhere. Listen to streaming radio. Voice over IP. This is the future.
Posted by ahalsey (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I recently bought a USB 8 G Flash drive for $14. Moore to the max?
Posted by whuebl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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