2007: The year of the flash

For Christmas I received a 30GB iPod that stores songs and video on a tiny hard disk. My daughter's iPod Nano holds fewer songs, but is sleeker and uses flash memory - solid state storage that will never suffer from a head crash or die when the disk drive bearings wear out. Today the Nano is limited to 8GB of storage, but improvements in the performance and economics of flash could change that before long. When that happens, the hard disk technology in my 30GB iPod will become a quaint relic of the past.

Prices for flash dropped like a rock in 2006 and are likely to continue to plummet this year, according to a just released IDC report (Solid State Disks: Is Future Disruption on the Horizon?). Other emerging solid-state technologies, such as IBM's phase-change memory, could also challenge the venerable hard disk drive (see New chip may replace flash memory, hard disk drives).

Flash performance is increasing just as spinning disk performance gains are stalling, IDC says. That could lead to explosive growth in the use of flash in a range of I/O-bound applications. This year, flash-based solid state disk (SSD) technology is ready for broad adoption on laptops and possibly desktops, where it can be used to speed up performance of the bloated Windows Vista operating system. That's a subject I explored last year in New hybrid drives promise faster Vista laptops, PCs, servers, and Hybrid drives boost speed, cut power consumption for laptops, desktops, servers.

IDC predicts explosive growth in the use of Flash-based solid-state disks (SSD) in three areas: shared files such as database indexes, high I/O data acquisition applications and Windows boot and acceleration. IDC also predicts "explosive growth" in the use of flash SSD in portable PCs and expects to see Windows Vista features such as its SuperFetch, which can cache data in flash memory, to appear in the next version of its Windows server operating system.

Meanwhile, flash technology continues to get better. Samsung recently announced a prototype 3-D flash chip fabrication technology that can double the memory density in the same footprint by stacking multiple layers of silicon on top of one another. This could eventually pave the way for an 8-layer, one-terabit chip, according to a company spokesperson (see Samsung's Plan for Terabit Flash Memory).

Imagine putting that in your iPod.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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