As a newly-minted Mac fan, I was happy to see the news this week that its new MacBook Air would be dropping the traditional hard drive for some nice solid-state flash memory ranging from 64 to 256GB. Apple as much admits on its site that it has made this move on the strength of the success of flash in the iPad: "We learned a lot from iPad. The new MacBook Air is proof. It’s designed around all-flash storage for better responsiveness and reliability." Apple claims it took the flash out of its module and used just the chips to "free up about 90% more space."
What impact will this have on the hard disk drive market? Admittedly, SSDs have been coming after HDDs hard in the last few quarters. Western Digital's CEO John Hoyne is quoted in The Register as saying he thinks sales of flash-driven devices, like the iPad and now the MacBook Air, could reduce HDD growth by 10 to 20% for the rest of this year and into 2011. Yikes.
Until Flash memory is replaced by something that doesn't wear it's really just an expensive fast HDD that is doomed to wear out.
HP and another company are working on a resistive memory that is far faster and less prone to failure.
Battery life is rated at 35 watt-hours. Previous revisions of 13" MacBook Air machines have included 37 or 40 watt-hour battery packs. Since this Air has a smaller screen and lacks a spinning hard drive, where does all the extra battery-life go?
The lifespan of an SSD is really difficult to determine. It really depends on the application, vendor, and the actual end use.
In a laptop, using the controller they are, for general computing, the life span will exceed that of a rotating disc storage device. Heat and vibration are killers to rotating media. SSDs are not bothered by such things (until you get over the temps that instantly kill a hard drive, then the SSD starts showing wear).
Solid state, smart controllers with wear leveling, and higher quality NAND chips all leads to an excellent drive. The only problem is capacity for storage.
Check out the "heatsink". I am blown away that they can cool the CPU and GPU with that. As usual, Apple has done a fantastic job with the hardware design.
I was really interested in this announcement once I heard about the SSD focus. It's an example of Apple claiming an innovation which they really didn't come up with, but I though that as a vertical integrator they might do something instead of just the typical SATA interface. Has anyone seen a detailed teardown yet? From what I've seen of the performance numbers it looks pretty conventional.
Price being what it may be, the form factor of the rotating hard drive is not really good for the flash drive. Flash memory density is a function of chip size: a TSOP/BGA is what it is, and it is a packaging problem to fit that to the 3.5", 2.5" or 1.8" form factor of rotating disks and handle the heat from the memory. Capacity is dictated, and there is no room for innovation there. Further, the selected form factor is a defining element of the overall consumer product size and shape. A few dozen gigabytes is sufficient for most people, so talk about terabytes is misguided.
By removing the traditional disk form factor, Apple gains a number of technical benefits. First, the shape of the product can be thinner, and the flash can be fitted to the nooks and crannies of the layout (e.g., the backside of the display), breaking the capacity barrier of the traditional drive packaging. By distributing the flash onto a larger surface, the thermal issues simply vanish, and reliability and data integrity improve. Breaking the form factor also allows the flash controller(s) to be integrated into other silicon, again making the product smaller and cheaper. And note that there is no longer an aftermarket replacement issue: no hard drive, no warehousing of spares; and the market is closed to 3rd-party enhancers (an eternal Apple goal).
This is a one-time product with no user serviceable parts inside: no upgrade, no spares, no aftermarket, and in a few years you'll be buying another (presumably newer, better) one.
I agree with the ppl saying that price will command the market share in hard disk market. But with more laptop manufacturer providing the option to choose bt. SSD and HDD, SSD is surely the new kid for focus.
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