The rise of solid-state notebooks

The rise of solid-state notebooks

Despite lingering concerns over cost and capacity, solid-state drives are marching into the notebook fray with a bevy of strong attributes.

And the solid-state drives (SSDs) go marching in. Since their arrival on the IT landscape, SSDs have quietly maintained camp on the outskirts of the blossoming notebook market, constrained by poor economies of scale and performance. But now, as prices start to fall, memory capacity increases and users realise the technical advantages, SSDs are primed for battle – but not necessarily with traditional mechanical hard drives.

“When you look at SSDs and compare them to hard disk drives they are still very small,” IDC associate market analyst, Felipe Rego, noted. “We just released our second quarter figures and SSDs are still just two per cent whereas the other is 98 per cent in that category. But when you compare Q2 last year and Q2 this year there is massive growth.”

While acknowledging the technology was in its infancy, Rego claimed SSD growth rocketed by a factor of 100 times over the last 12 months. “We expect that to continue and the drivers are small form factor notebooks,” he added. “Also, with all the concern about green IT – SSDs require less energy and gives a longer battery life.

“On the flip side we expect that hard disk drives will maintain their position; we don’t see much of a decline there. As the ultra small form factor PCs are coming out on the market now we expect additional units but not cannibalising from the mainstream.” The launch of products like Asus’ Eee PC and subsequent cohorts have helped SSDs on their way, industry representatives claim.

“For the Eee PC it was quite simple; we designed a product which is low weight, less fragile because there are less mechanical parts, and has a longer battery life,” Asus product manager for notebooks and Eee PC, Albert Liang, said. “For notebooks, we have a similar direction but notebook has the disadvantage of the cost of solid-state drives. That’s why they haven’t been configured with solid-state drives in the past year or two.”

And although Asus still uses mechanical drives in some versions of the Eee PC, SSDs were a key enabler.

“There are some customers who still need the larger storage device, which is understandable, but we do have a lot of requests for the solid-state drives,” Liang said. “They understand there is a device that uses solid-state drive at a price which is affordable. “Notebook-wise we haven’t got a lot of demand at this stage. But Eee PC-wise the demand has been quite high. I don’t have definite figures but we have got feedback from customers that might be working in the mining industry or who are often on the road – they require a more robust machine.”

As part of this growth the number of vendors which offer SSD-equipped notebooks has risen and now includes Apple, HP, Samsung, Toshiba, Pioneer Computers and Lenovo. Australia principal at mobile PC distributor Tegatech, Hugo Ortega, claimed SSDs are now comparable to mechanical hard disk drives.

“The main difference is that for your money you get up to 40 per cent less capacity,” he said. “What we have found is solid-state machines appeal to a more commercial-style buyer, not yet the mum-and-dad space. Solid-state is still working very well in vertical markets and the main reason for that is it is more robust. Being more robust, the price difference far outweighs the asset management qualities of it; there are fewer issues managing SSDs than spinning drives given that they survive a lot more drops.

“I probably attribute at least 25 per cent growth from last year to this fiscal year. The main criterion is there were also considerable price drops during that same period. When last year began, 8GB would have been the biggest SSD, now 32GB and 64GB are pretty common and around the same price.”

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