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Dell Releases Flash-Based Laptops 230

Posted by Zonk
from the welcome-to-the-world-of-tomorrow dept.
joetheprogrammer writes "Dell has announced that they are going to offer a special configuration option with its Latitude D420 laptop that will allow users to swap clunky old HDs in favor of a 32GB SanDisk Flash hard drive. The only hitch comes with the price tag, which is set at a rather expensive price of $549. This will definitely ensure the laptop is set for a very high-profile consumer. 'The 1.8-inch 32GB SanDisk SSD, which SanDisk announced in January, increases performance by as much as 23 percent and is three and a half times less likely to fail when compared with HDDs currently available for the Latitude line, Dell said. The drive, currently available in North and South America, costs $549 -- on par with the 32GB drive Sony is offering exclusively in Japan for the Type-G Vaio. SanDisk will expand SSD availability to Europe and Asia in the near future.'"
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Dell Releases Flash-Based Laptops

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  • by Corpuscavernosa (996139) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:33PM (#18892409)
    ... welcome our 32GB SanDisk Flash hard drive in our laptop overlords. Dammmit. That sucked so bad.
    • Re:I for one... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zeinfeld (263942) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:45PM (#18892567) Homepage
      The cost is not very important. Whatever the drive costs today it will cost less in a years time.

      What is rather more interesting is what eliminating the hard drive will allow in terms of laptop design. A compact flash card is much smaller than a hard drive, the volume saved will be significant on compact format laptops.

      Another interesting difference is that it will be easier to make the drive easily removable on compact laptops. Today this tends to be a feature of the larger models which means that corporate IT depts are less willing to offer compact units.

      • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lee1026 (876806) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:38PM (#18893199)
        Isn't the keyboard the bottleneck in how small a laptop can be?
        • by morcego (260031)
          Considering the screen on my laptop is twice the size of its keyboard, I would say no.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by potat0man (724766)
          Not yet it isn't. How many keyboard-sized laptops are there? Not many.
        • Sooner or later, one of the companies is going to get bright and drop the battery and replace it with a capacitor. So what if it only has 1/2 hour charge. That would serve 98% of the times that I am off the power grid. If I can recharge it in under 1 minute AND I never have to replace the battery, I will take it. Then the company needs to offer a snap-on battery for the bottom that allows LONG trips (say 4-6 hours).
        • by askegg (599634)
          To paraphrase Sun: "The keyboard *is* the laptop".
        • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by evilviper (135110) on Friday April 27, 2007 @01:42AM (#18896595) Journal

          Isn't the keyboard the bottleneck in how small a laptop can be?

          Nope. I have a full fledged keyboard on my Psion5. It measures about 3x7" and 100WPM+ typing on it is no problem.

          Frankly, it looks like notebook manufacturers couldn't design a DECENT keyboard if they had several feet of space to work with... Things can get much smaller, and be EASIER to type on than current notebook keyboards.

          The screen size may be a bit of a limit, but only because people have been convinced they need 17" screens by existing displays. Make a smaller screen, with a higher DPI, and widescreen aspect, and it would be just as easily usable.

          The only notebook size limit I care about is the CD/DVD... So long as my notebook is large enough to fit a DVD burner, I'm happy with the size of it. How crappy the keyboard is, may be another matter.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by bhiestand (157373)

            Nope. I have a full fledged keyboard on my Psion5. It measures about 3x7" and 100WPM+ typing on it is no problem.

            For you. I have fat fingers. I've tried using those keyboards, and it's nearly impossible for me to type with any accuracy because my fingers have a tendency to hit the neighboring keys. And no, I'm not incredibly fat.

            The screen size may be a bit of a limit, but only because people have been convinced they need 17" screens by existing displays. Make a smaller screen, with a higher DPI, and widescreen aspect, and it would be just as easily usable.

            The only notebook size limit I care about is the CD/DVD... So long as my notebook is large enough to fit a DVD burner, I'm happy with the size of it. How crappy the keyboard is, may be another matter.

            I couldn't disagree more. I don't care if the screen has a billion pixels per inch, if the screen is 5" wide I am going to have trouble reading it while it's sitting on my lap. I don't necessarily need a 15" or 17" screen, but I do need it to be a certain proportion of my field of view

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        A compact flash card is much smaller than a hard drive

        Actually, what the article is talking about is a 1.8 inch drive - the smaller form factor for laptop hard drives, just with no moving parts. The news here is that the flash-based device has the same bus as a hard drive and has enough capacity to replace, rather than complement, the hard drive.

        While 1.8 inch drives are already in laptops, this may further push towards smaller drives as flash technology shrinks.
        • by Zeinfeld (263942)
          Actually, what the article is talking about is a 1.8 inch drive - the smaller form factor for laptop hard drives, just with no moving parts.

          The form factor is not relevant here since the flash drive is merely an option on an existing chasis. We won't see any size reduction in the machine until there is a chasis purposed designed for a flash drive.

          64Gb compact flash drives are already available - at a price! So there is no difficulty fitting the memory into the machine. And several makers already offer

          • by CastrTroy (595695)

            I am fed up being told that I can't encrypt data on my USB drive.
            If you want to encrypt the data, just use TrueCrypt [truecrypt.org]. It offers many different ciphers and is available for multiple platforms, including Windows and Linux.
      • by Bobartig (61456)
        This is not a compact flash drive, its a 1.8" solid state drive. It basically looks the same as the drives you find in an iPod, and about the size as a PCMCIA card.

        That being said, compact format laptops have been using these for a while, and they didn't get that much smaller, just a millimeter thinner or so.

        I don't really see how this makes drives easier or harder to remove. The big jump in that respect was SATA connectors which have fewer pins and less insertion force. Making a removable drive architectur
      • by Vexorian (959249)
        Isn't the domination of laser media a bigger problem? (Not implying it is, just asking)
  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:34PM (#18892425)
    ... aren't made by their battery division. ;-)
  • by ForestGrump (644805) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:35PM (#18892433) Homepage Journal
    How would I know if the HDD failed if it no longer has the "click of death"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bcat24 (914105)
      You may have been joking, but I'd be seriously interested in knowing this. How exactly does flash memory behave when it fails? The last thing anyone wants is for their drive to silently corrupt data.
      • by crabpeople (720852) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:23PM (#18893001) Journal
        Same way as most hard drives: Delayed write fails, disk errors in event viewer, devloping bad blocks, frequently needing chkdsks, bsods.. HDDS make a big fuss when they are failing. Its way easier to diagnose than most things. When in doubt, ghost it and see if theres a performance improvement with the new drive.

        That said, ive had flash drives go from working fine to dead in a few short static induced moments. As these drives will be inside the PC and far less likely to be treated like a portable drive, hopefully it won't have those over handling issues.

    • How would I know if the HDD failed if it no longer has the "click of death"?

      We former owners of Deathstar/Deskstar drives affectionately call that the "Death Rattle".

  • yussss (Score:2, Interesting)

    is three and a half times less likely to fail when compared with HDDs currently available for the Latitude

    Ok... now seriously, how reliable are the normal hard drives to begin with? 2 days x 3.5 = a week. yay!
  • by Babbster (107076) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {bbabnoraa}> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:39PM (#18892483) Homepage
    It'll be interesting to find out how much battery life is extended by replacing the hard drive with flash. The performance advantage doesn't seem that impressive given the high cost, but if replacing traditional hard drives with flash can improve battery life significantly then it could be worthwhile - not only for "traditional" productivity, but for mobile gaming which is severely hindered by power considerations.
  • Great for students (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geek (5680) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:39PM (#18892487) Homepage
    I know that I've risked a lot of HDD damage over the years at school, lugging this laptop around, dropping it in hallways etc. If the rpice was right and the drive a bit larger, say 70g I'd be very interested. 32g is a little small for me, but on the right track.
    • by ross.w (87751)
      Wait six months or so. You'll get your wish.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 (716938)
      A 32gb flash HD is a GREAT idea. Seems to me, one could make a laptop with a REALY small form factor and spend time protecting other things (Screen, keyboard) then worries about drive saftey. 32gb is plenty for the opsys and a few files. As to other stuff (movies, music); get a external 2.5 enclosure preferably with a firewire port. Firewire needs no external power support on a 2.5 enclosure and, you can get up to a good 100gb using regular tech. Most times you don't need the external anyway so why lug
  • Neat to see (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Skadet (528657) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:42PM (#18892521) Homepage
    It's neat to see a consumer-level incarnation of this technology. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying that solid-state storage will be the norm in portable devices where impact is a real liability -- after all, the iPod kind of pioneered that. Even with impact-protection devices like the ones Apple has for their hard drives, physical damage is still a real-world problem. The faster access times are a welcome benefit, but for now are not the main focus. So, kudos to Dell. The "rather expensive" price will fall, and it'll become the norm. It will be interesting to see how much more bloated apps become when access time isn't an issue.
    • by Weezul (52464)
      It will be interesting to see how much more bloated apps become when access time isn't an issue.

      Yes, but massively increasing the price of storage, and reducing the maximum capasity, will help fight other bloat too.
  • Devils Advocate (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fishthegeek (943099)
    This is a long time coming, and I'm excited about this but has anyone really considered that one of the benefits of mechanical storage is that the data can still be pretty easily recovered if the hdd isn't bootable any longer. How easy or difficult would it be to recover data from an SSD drive if it isn't bootable? I'm thinking that putting it in the freezer just isn't going to work any more.
    • by bcat24 (914105)
      Couldn't you just connect the SSD to another computer as a secondary device and access the undamaged data, like you can do with hard drives right now?
    • by wellingj (1030460)
      I disagree because you will be able to use a logic levels to read the data. So instead of having more specialized hardware you will need more specialized software and some minor hardware hacking (hack an old usb key) to get the data out. I would also guess that there probably be less random data corruption compared to magnetic problems of HDD. Can any experts on stuff like this comment, because I just did a lot of guess work (^^;
  • two questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by free space (13714) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:46PM (#18892573)
    1- Why only 23% faster? I thought mechanical HDD's were the bottleneck in modern computers and that replacing them with purely electornic components would make the machine run many times faster.

    2- Must the users permenantly use the solid state drive, or can it be replaced/hotswapped with a normal hard drive when storage capacity is needed more than speed?
    • Re:two questions (Score:5, Informative)

      by NerveGas (168686) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:54PM (#18892669)
      Flash-based drives have MUCH lower latency than spindle-based disks. If your drive has an average seek time of, say, 15 milliseconds, you're limitted to about 60 I/O operations per second no matter how little bandwidth you're using. While the actual transfer speed of flash is roughly similar to a current hard drive, the decrease in latency will be very appreciated in some situations.
      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @08:03PM (#18893521)

        Flash-based drives have MUCH lower latency than spindle-based disks.

        That should read "CAN have much lower latency." I've seen USB flash drives tested that had +100ms seek times, and it's not always the 5-6MB/sec class drives; some of the 10-20MB/sec flash drives were this bad. The fastest USB keys are around half a ms or so, which is perhaps a 8x improvement over the fastest magnetic drives.

        Flash memory can be glacially slow, have limited number of write cycles and poor reliability, and controllers can be slow as well- and as this stuff gets more into the mainstream, I guarantee some companies will use cheap components to boost profit margins or undercut competitors. We're already seen it in the USB flash drive market; I've witnessed at least a couple of these things get corrupted or stop working after daily use in an office environment, and they were all pretty much no-name brands or freebies.

        This competition isn't entirely a bad thing, as the cheap junk will put some pressure on the "good guys" pricing-wise, but the tradeoff is that we'll have to look before we leap with the credit card.

        • by NerveGas (168686)
          USB flash drives are a different matter.... that's like saying that a Lexus might not perform well because a Fiat doesn't.

            =)

          As for the limitted write-cycled, yes... but it's worlds different than it was in the old days, when flash got its bad rep - which was, at the time, deserved.

          steve
    • by Brad1138 (590148) *
      #1- That was my thought also. The time it takes for a computer to boot is mostly due to the "slow" transfer of files from the HD. You would think it would boot a LOT faster and run a lot faster. The answer is probably that if you have enough memory on your computer, you aren't using your HD that much, mainly for loading programs and booting, the rest of the time it is running from memory that is faster than flash mem or the HD anyway.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      1- Why only 23% faster? I thought mechanical HDD's were the bottleneck in modern computers

      The main reason is probably just that Flash is slow. If you had sticks of DDR400 in there, instead of Flash, it would probably scream along.

      The HDD is considered to be the bottleneck these days, but it's not significantly behind the CPU... If there was a sudden jump in HDD speed, the CPU would be the biggest concern once again. And, in fact, the bottleneck depends on your workload... When I want to encode a video,

  • by Steve B (42864) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:51PM (#18892627)
    Don't flash drives crap out after a few hundred thousand writes? That may not be a problem for most people's data and apps, but it would play hell with a Windows swap file. (Can a swap file be load-balanced to different parts of the flash drive without overhead that would lose much of the advantages of replacing a hard disk?)
    • by ross.w (87751)
      Safest way around this is to have more regular memory. If you have two gig or more you aren't likely to need a swap file unless you are rendering video or something. You shouldn't be using a laptop like this one for that.
      • by samantha (68231) *
        What a minute. Either this is a fit replacement for hard disks or it is not. If it is not we need to calm down the WooHoo a bit and say much more clearly what it is and isn't good for.
    • More like 10 million writes.

      I would certainly hope and expect that the flash drive has some kind of wear averaging so that repetitively writing to the swap file moves the hot bits around the harddrive.

      • I researched flash file systems for a project at work, and they all incorporate wear levelling. I ended up designing my own, since we needed a flat, numbered, record-oriented file system, something JFFS2 [sourceware.org] (for example) couldn't meet.

        Many devices (digital cameras, MP3 players, etc.) use FAT, more-or-less unmodified. This limits them to a few million erase/write cycles on important sectors, but I don't think the average digital camera will last that long.

        A flash-based hard drive will have different require

    • by OverlordQ (264228) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:02PM (#18892765) Journal
      According to the SPEC sheet, the MTTF was 2,000,000 hours. Which is above nearly every HD out there. I'd probably be correct in assuming that they figured the write-limit into their testing.
    • From StorageSearch [storagesearch.com]

      The way that SSD oems deal with the management of write endurance internally within their products varies but they all have the common theme of scoring how many times a block of memory has been written to, and then reallocating physical blocks to logical blocks dynamically and transparently to spread the laod across the whole disk. In a well designed flash SSD you would have to write to the whole disk the endurance number of cycles to be in danger.

      For this illustrative calculation I'm

    • by Jeremi (14640)
      (Can a swap file be load-balanced to different parts of the flash drive without overhead that would lose much of the advantages of replacing a hard disk?)


      IIRC, there is often firmware logic in the better flash devices to do that sort of load-levelling in hardware, so you don't have to rely on the computer's OS to do it. Of course, it may be that flash has gotten enough more reliable that that sort of firmware magic isn't even necessary anymore, I don't know.

  • it's just what laptops needed, and the flash hard drives will only get bigger in capacity.. the fastest drives like SCSI & the 10kRPM SATA2, have always been a bit smaller than their larger slower counterparts. If you need storage on a laptop, get a 500gb drive and put it in an external enclosure, having windows running off a flash drive sounds like it should be great.
    • by DFJA (680282)

      having windows running off a flash drive sounds like it should be great.
      and having Linux running off a flash driver would be even better.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:53PM (#18892657) Homepage
    This would be REALLY good for a ruggidized laptop, as vibration + HDDs are not a pretty combination.

    Also, I'd assume this would help on the power budget, and really speed random-access workloads.
  • by microbee (682094) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:59PM (#18892721)
    It'd be very handy if the flash could be removed and carried in pocket.
    • Well, there's no reason it couldn't be, with a switch to kill power to the SSD before you pull it, from a sliding tray or the like. I know my inspirion 8200 has only one screw holding the hard drive in the laptop, the rest is secured in a tray that comes out the side.
    • by Stonent1 (594886)
      I've had a D420 apart before. The hard drive is underneath the touch pad. It is one of the smaller drives like they used in the iPods. The connector to the laptop is different as well. it is about a 1cm plug on the end of a ribbon cable that is connected to the drive. It appears to be IDE but I'm not sure, it could be SATA. All the the other current Dell laptops are SATA now. With that being said, it is not very easy to remove the drive. You have to take the keyboard out and the palm rest as well.
  • ... what the price/performance ratio would be if you took an ordinary 200GB 7200 RPM HDD, dropped the speed down to 4500 RPM, and put in, say, 4 GB of level-2 cache (on top of the 2-8 MB DRAM cache) in flash memory.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Brad1138 (590148) *
      Isn't that close to what Vista has with ReadyBoost [msdn.com]?
    • You would nearly half the transfer rate of the drive by dropping the rotational speed. Access time is important when you can not cache the files to memory on read. If you read up on ready boost or whatever vista calls it it seems to only matter on memory starved systems so I would rather put 4GB of primary ram into a system than pay for 4GB of flash on a disk. Sure if your already maxed out in ram (a very expensive proposition for my idea of a workstation) it might start making a difference. The best ba
  • Works like a charm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by emj (15659) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:05PM (#18892799) Homepage Journal
    I have been doing this on and of for two years, I first bought a 1GB CF and placed it in my PC CARD port so I could use my basic stuff with out using the harddrive. It was very nice, but sadly a bit slow, I think it was the PC-CARD -> IDE converter that was the problem. Then a year ago I bought a IDE 2.5" -> CF converter and a 2GB flash, and it works wonderfullly. The 2 GB is enough for most things, and I get no HD heat, nor noise from it. Wonderfull.

    Though the CF converter or CF card I have doesn't support UDMA, which still makes things slow, but it's ok.

    Current setup:
    X40 + 1GB DRAM + 4GB CF
    • I thought the X40 had a 1.8" HDD, and with a different connector to regular 1.8's so you were very limited with disk choices. How are you using a 2.5" converter with it?
  • 23 percent faster? 3 times less likely to fail? what the hell is going on here? a flash device with 32GB should be able to be striped like crazy and give 100-10000 times the transfer rates than HDD, and with almost 0 access times compared to HDD, they should be 1000 times faster to seek, giving a 100000 - 10000000 times performance increase.

    Also with no moving parts they should be about 100-10000 times less likely to fail. And should use about 100x or less power than HDDs. Who is designing these things
  • by vanyel (28049) * on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:21PM (#18892979) Journal
    I've recently tried to install centos and freebsd on various cf cards with an ide adapter (my home router's hard disk is dying), and neither are happy, getting timeouts and various errors. My understanding is that the cf interface is ide, so why should it be a problem?
    • by emj (15659)
      I have no problem at all.. Must be your adapters.
    • Have you tried the CF in another computer? It might be the router itself which is dying.
      • by vanyel (28049) *
        Yes, the router remains functional, nothing critical has been lost yet, so I've been testing on another machine, though I did try originally with a 4G PQI cf card in the CF slot in the router machine (a shuttle xpm, only about a year old, but which seems designed to cook drives if you leave the cover on, as is the case with all too many cases).

        There have been some indications that the problem is that DMA isn't working, and someone mentioned there's a non-dma mode for linux that I haven't had a chance to try
  • and it comes with windows vista eating up 15GB of that 32gb HD.
  • by steppin_razor_LA (236684) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:54PM (#18893403) Homepage Journal
    I'd be very interested to know what sort of effects this has on battery life? I'm not sure how much energy the CPU vs Screen vs HD consume...
  • The only hitch comes with the price tag, which is set at a rather expensive price of $549.

    While I've seen many people saddled with low-end laptops I have never spent less than $2K for a personal laptop or had an employer pay less for hardware with which I was expected to do my job. Breaking $2K for a laptop is easy; just spec enough resolution and RAM for the desktop replacement role and you're there. I have also spent >$500 on good disks for both personal and professional use.

    I predict Dell will be surprised by the number of customers that opt for this. Disks are slow, vulnerable power s

  • I recall a day when a mother board could come with just a little bit of cache onboard, and if you wanted more cache, you could buy chips and stick them into the available sockets..... .....Why don't we do this for long term storage now? Seriously, I would love to buy an SATA "Hard Card" (not to be confused with the old HDD on an ISA slot) that had sockets left open. Six months from now when even MORE dense memory comes out, I would love to just insert chips into those sockets and double my drive space. I
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I recently bought a USB SD reader. And while it's a little larger than most thumb drives, I think it's nice to have something that's expandable. It's much easier to buy another SD card when they go on sale, and have a couple lying around, then to have a bunch of thumb drives all over the place. I don't know why this isn't more popular. Why buy a USB drive that can only be used in computers, when you can buy an SD card, and have it work in Cameras, PDAs, Computers, Wiis, and many other electronic devices
      • by pecosdave (536896)
        I here you, I have a few of those myself, some of the readers are more portable than the others, but I find them to be quite handy.
  • This will definitely ensure the laptop is set for a very high-profile consumer.

    Not really; Dell markets the Latitudes to enterprises. Even with a $549 drive a Latitude is still cheaper than many Thinkpads.
  • why can't a system have something like 4 gigs flash for faster (near instant) boot and power failure recovery? While using a hard drive for general storage?

    Or is there a patent on this?
  • It's a flash drive. A 'real' SSD is box of high speed ram backedup with its own power supply and battery. It runs a little slower than RAM speed, accounting for error checking, redundancy and formatting. Flash is NON VOLATILE, SSD is not. Non volatile memory is far slower by its very design.
  • I find it more interesting to consider the possibilities for a change in the system architecture.

    We have the "pure" SSD devices:

    If we have a solid state storage, why do we need to force it into the same protocol actions as a traditional disk? All HDD protocols are based on only being able to read one thing at a time. It strikes me a much simpler transport similar to a "low speed" direct memory management system is the next logical step. Would this remove more of the latency from SSD devices? How many parall
  • Summary.
    Advantages of solid state - Lighter, low access time, lower power, no heat.
    Disadvantage - Expensive.
    Tweaktown solid state 16GB 2.5 HD Review [tweaktown.com]

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