A new mini-notebook design from Apple could use
fast-booting flash memory
instead of traditional hard discs, according to an analyst report.
Substituting solid state memory for spinning discs could allow a notebook PC to boot up as fast as a smartphone or mobile music player, and also extend battery life.
Those advantages have already attracted other IT vendors to explore a greater reliance on flash memory. On March 7, Samsung shipped its first hybrid disk drives, using flash memory as a small, temporary cache so a notebook PC can reduce the number of times it accesses the conventional magnetic memory on its main disks.
Intel has also said it will use flash in its pending “Robson” motherboard system, using flash memory to save electrical power in the improved Centrino notebook PC platform called “Santa Rosa” that the company plans to launch in the second quarter.
Apple plans to use a similar design in a class of “subnotebooks” expected to launch in the second half of 2007, according to a report released March 7 by Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research. The report cited unnamed industry sources.
However, the launch date could slip if NAND vendors don’t continue to cut prices for flash memory, Wu said. The cost of NAND flash has dropped to seven or eight times the equivalent capacity in hard-disk drives, compared to 10 times as much last year, he said. In current costs, 32G bytes of storage costs $160 in NAND flash, compared to just $22 on hard drives.
“Through 2007, NAND flash in notebook PCs will likely be limited to the high-end/ultra-portable market,” Wu said in the report. For the same reason, Apple will probably wait until late 2007 or early 2008 to change its last remaining hard-drive based iPod — the Video iPod — to NAND flash.
Apple declined to comment on the move, saying the company does not address rumors and speculation, according to a statement by Teresa Brewer, a corporate spokeswoman.
Other analysts doubt that Apple could make a financial success out of such a system.
“I think this is highly unlikely based on price and consumers’ understanding of why they should pay three times the price and get not even a fraction of the capacity,” said Joe Unsworth, an analyst with Gartner.
Compared to a notebook with conventional disks, a flash-based notebook would have better battery life, faster performance, tougher endurance and a smaller form factor, he said. But those benefits come with such a high price tag that they appeal to only a thin slice of the market, such as military and industrial buyers. Sony and Fujitsu have also discovered that trade-off in their efforts to sell flash-based, ruggedized, ultra-portable notebooks, Unsworth said.