CES 2007: Sandisk surprises with Flash hard drive announcement

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Pre CES 2007 coverage - Milpitas (CA) - Next to the usual suspects such as high-def, networking and Media Center PCs, storage is set to become one of the key focus areas of this year's Consumer Electronics Show, which is scheduled to open its doors next Monday. Among them will be Sandisk, which will show a 32 GB solid state disk (SSD).

NAND flash will turn 18 years in 2007 and it could become the most important and successful year of the technology yet. Having matured mainly in applications such as memory cards, USB sticks and high-end solid state disks, NAND flash appears top be ready to take a shot at key storage applications. Following Samsung, which yesterday announced that it has begun production of 16 Gb memory chips for its 2.5" 32 GB Flash drive, Sandisk said that it will be unveiling a 1.8" 32 GB SSD, based on NAND flash memory technology at CES.

The drive, which is based on the SSDs of Msystems', a company which was recently acquired by Sandisk, is scheduled to become available in H1 2007 for enterprise users and will offer about half the capacity of today's entry level notebooks with traditional hard drives (60 GB). However, it is performance and power savings that sets the SSD apart from an ordinary hard drive.

Sandisk claims that the SSD will deliver a sustained read rate of 62 MB/s and a random read rate of 7000 inputs/s. Both values are significantly faster than what we recently observed with Samsung's 32 GB SSD. The file access rate of the Sandisk SSD is rated at 0.12 milliseconds, compared to 19 milliseconds of a hard drive. At least the random read rate is about 100 times faster than what a hard drive delivers and, collectively, the features provide enough performance to boot Windows Vista Enterprise in about 35 seconds, Sandisk said.

More details about the drive are expected to be revealed at CES, but Sandisk is apparently aiming directly for the vendor market and will avoid retail initially. In any case, the luxury of a SSD will not be cheap if compared to high capacity hard drives, but could be surprisingly affordable when compared to SSDs in the past: Sandisk said that the inclusion of a 32 GB SSD may increase the price of a notebook by about $600 - which translates into a GB-price of about $19. This number is significantly less than what we initially expected for this relatively new technology. However, if it is pure storage space that you need, then NAND flash won't be able to touch traditional hard drives anytime soon: 300 GB 2.5" drives will be surfacing in H1 2007, for a GB-price of around 40 to 50 cents.