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Samsung shows flash-based laptop

Price the major stumbling block

Samsung has developed a higher-capacity version of its SSD (solid-state disk), a flash-memory based replacement for hard-disk drives, and is showing it at the CeBit trade show in Hanover, Germany, this week.

The drive packs 32GB of flash memory into a case the same size as a 1.8in hard-disk drive. That capacity is twice the 16GB of a prototype device announced by Samsung last year, and was made possible by the continuing miniaturisation of flash-memory chip technology.

At CeBit the SSD is being demonstrated inside a Samsung laptop computer. Because the SSD is the same size and shape as the computer's hard drive, it was relatively easy to make the replacement, said Yun Mini, a spokeswoman for Samsung.

The SSD technology has three major benefits over hard-disk drives, said Yun. The first is that data access is faster. This could be seen when the SSD-based laptop was booted up alongside the same model with a hard disk. The desktop appeared on the screen of the SSD laptop in about 18 seconds, while the hard-drive-based computer took about 31 seconds to reach the same point.

The second advantage comes in durability. Because there are no moving parts in the SSD it is much better at withstanding shock, and it is unlikely that data will be lost if the laptop is dropped. The third major advantage is that it works silently, Yun claimed.

But for all these advantages there is a major hurdle that needs to be overcome before SSD can reach mass market: price. Flash memory costs around $30 (about £17) per gigabyte, so the memory needed for the 32GB drive works out at about $960 (£545) before any other costs are taken into account.

Samsung thinks there are some military or industrial customers that have specialist applications that would benefit from the SSD and so might be more willing to pay a premium.

"At this moment it would be very expensive," said Yun, "but technology is moving very fast, so in the near future it could be cheaper."

Prices for flash memory are coming down. In May last year, when Samsung first announced the technology, flash memory cost about $55 (£32) per gigabyte. So it might just be a matter of time before such disks hit the mass market.

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