Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dell's flashy notebook

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news that Samsung had released the world's first hybrid notebook, Dell has started offering full flash harddisk based notebooks on it's US store today.

However, the offering is currently limited to the Latitude D420 and D620 ATG lines. It is based on the Sandisk SSD flash harddisk that was only recently introduced earlier this month. It is only taking advantage of this new technology on it's business class notebooks for several reasons.

The first reason is the cost. The fancy harddisk will cost more than $500 extra. Only people with the genuine need for such a technology would be willing to fork out the extra cash. The next reason is because of the size. The harddisk currently comes in a 32Gb size, which would last very long once a kid puts a music library and a few games onto the machine. I also guess that the usage pattern for the typical business user would not trash the harddisk too quickly by constantly installing and removing stuff from the machine.

The advantages of using a flash drive instead of a normal harddisk drive is reduced power usage and faster access times. It takes a lot of power to spin up the mechanical motors of a harddisk, move the head into the correct position and then performing the read. The slow physical read process is slower than reading data electronically off a flash device. Both Dell and Samsung claim about a 30% improvement in speed and more in battery life performances. There are alternative hacks to get such functionality at a cheaper cost.

It is unfortunate that most notebook computers only come with enough space to fit one harddisk in. If it was possible to fit a second harddisk in, it would be much cheaper to just install an existing CompactFlash card with $5 adaptor. That's actually a good question. Why don't notebook computers normally come with an extra drive bay? The on-board chipsets can certainly support more devices. The question is probably one to deal with power, weight and size. Since there isn't a second drive bay, another hack would be to use a CF card as the main drive while keeping all data stored on an external USB drive. This would mean having to end up carrying even more peripherals around and using up more power. So, it's not a viable option either. However, desktops could easily use such a technology immediately but they would not benefit as much from it.

Anyway, I guess that we will be seeing more and more of these things coming onto the market in the near future, which will hopefully drive prices down. In a few years time, all non-volatile storage in a consumer notebook will probably be flash based. Maybe it's a good time to start investing in flash manufacturers. [Do not take this as sound financial advice.]

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