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Toshiba Preps 128GB Solid-State Notebook Drive

The company claims the new drive has a read speed of 100 MB per second and a write speed of 40 MB per second.
Toshiba this week said it plans before April to ship a 128 GB solid-state drive that will appear first in Toshiba notebooks sold in Japan.

The drive, which has no moving parts, achieves the unusually high capacity at a lower cost than most SSDs through the use of multi-level cell NAND flash technology. Most SSDs today are single-level cell drives, which store 1 bit of data in each memory cell. MLC drives, on the other hand, store 3 or more bits in each cell. While MLC drives have slower transfer speeds and higher power consumption, they are also far less expensive to make.

Nevertheless, SSDs in general cost multiples more than traditional hard-disk drives. In justifying the higher cost, manufacturers claim SSDs are faster and are more reliable and rugged, since there are not moving parts. Recently, however, researcher Avian Securities has challenged those claims, reporting that dissatisfied customers have been returning SSD-based Dell notebooks in high numbers. The computer maker has said that Avian's estimated rate of returns is way too high.

Toshiba believes its latest SSD strikes the right balance between price and performance. "We believe that Toshiba MLC SSDs offer the right mix of cost and performance to satisfy today's demanding storage requirements for notebooks and ultra-mobile PCs," Scott Nelson, VP of memory for Toshiba division Toshiba America Electronic Components, said in a statement released Tuesday.

Toshiba, which has not released pricing, claims the new drive has a read speed of 100 MB per second and a write speed of 40 MB per second, making it faster than 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm hard-disk drives. The company says it achieved the high performance level through the use of a SATA II interface and a new MLC controller.

As a result, the latest drive performs extremely well in Windows Vista boot speed, application loading, general usage, and virus scan operations, according to Toshiba.

The new product weighs about three hundredths of a pound and is in an embedded module form factor. Toshiba has also begun mass production of a 64 GB embedded module. The company plans to start sampling next month the same size SSDs in 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch drive enclosures.

While manufacturers plow ahead with notebook-targeted SSDs, questions are arising as to whether they deliver a performance boost significant enough to justify the higher cost. Avi Cohen, managing partner of Avian Securities, found the rate of return on SSD notebooks from Dell ranged from 20% to 30%. A Dell spokesman, however, said those numbers were "wholly inaccurate by orders of magnitude." The computer maker declined to release specific numbers.

Makers of NAND flash, the memory technology used in SSDs, are hoping notebook adoption will give the industry a much-needed financial boost this year. Researcher iSuppli last month cut its 2008 revenue outlook for the global NAND flash market to the single-digit percentage range from its previous estimate of a 27% increase. Flash manufacturers last year took in $13.9 billion.

ISuppli issued the warning "amid troubling signs of order reductions and weakness in consumer spending."