We Don't Need No Stinkin' Hard Drive

Wow, they read my mind. Earlier this week, I was working on a post about how we needed a notebook computer that had no hard drive and included flash for storage.

NEC has announced such a beast, and I'm excited. The Engadgeteers can't get past the price and RAM. I agree with the Engadget comments, this does cost too much, and I would like to see 1 gig of RAM. However, if they'd take a moment to step back, they might see something cool here.

If you've been paying attention, you saw Apple release a sleek digital audio player with up to 4 gig of flash. They packed that flash in to a sleek package and let you take it home for a decent price. UBS says that 4 gig of flash costs about $115.

One of the biggest complaints with notebook computers these days is a reversal in weight trends. They seem to be getting larger, rather than smaller. Bigger screens, bigger drives, and bigger batteries to power it all. What I want is the opposite of this. I want a tight 12" notebook with unbelievable battery life that still let's me do all of the things I like to do with a notebook. So what do I like to do? Browse the web, author documents, watch DVDs, transfer files, and maybe play a few games of poker. None of these things require a large hard drive.

What if we could swap out the 60 gig hard drive for 20 gig of flash? We could save size, weight, power, and battery since we don't have to spin platters. Sounds just like what the iPod nano did, huh?

A typical 60 gig 2.5" notebook drive weighs about 120 grams. 1 gig of flash weighs about .5 grams, so 20 gig would be 10 grams, less than 10% of the hard drive weight.
That same hard drive has dimensions of 0.374" H x 2.75" W x 3.94" D. I can't find dimensions of the flash right now, but the entire iPod nano is about half that size, so I'd imagine my smaller size claim holds up.

What about the loss in hard drive space? You know what? People seemed to get by with less than 20 gig for the last few years with notebook computers. Ignoring music and video, file sizes haven't increased all that much. You can keep your music library on a portable music player and ignore video (other than DVD) for this product. That isn't it's focus.

In the end, we can make the notebook even thinner, and still have room for a bigger battery. We also gain some reliability because we get rid of the spinning drive. Finally, we ditch the slow 5400RPM notebook drives and kick it up a bit with flash.

The biggest issue I see is cost. Going by the numbers from earlier, 20 gig of flash is going to cost about $500 today. That's quite a bit more than the ~$60 for the 60 gig drive. As the Engadget comments already proved, people aren't going to like the idea of paying MORE for a simpler, less powerful, and probably secondary, computer. Fast forward a year or so, when prices have dropped, and I hope to have a flash-only iBook in my hands.


crturboguy said...

The biggest problem w/ flash as I see it is the re-write cycles. Apple probably gets away w/ it on the Nano b/c people aren't changing their music that much everyday. On the other hand, think of how many temporary files your computer creates constantly. All of those write/erase cycles would render flash dead in fairly short order (a lot sooner than a hard drive would die), and then you're stuck w/ a notebook that you can't replace the bad parts, furthering our throw away society. On the other hand, if they did it right and put the flash in a hard drive style enclosure, so that if it does die, you can replace it, then I'd say that's a much better idea. Another thought is to work w/ the software vendor(s) to limit the creating of un-neccessary temp files so as to preserve the flash life.


-- I said...

That and flash is slow as sin, especially for writes. The pagepool would have to be in ram, and forget about a swap file... And, knowing how often windows needs to write to the disk (here's a hint, it does it every time you open the start menu, change a window location, etc), your system would be crawling.

Which, I think, is part of the reason we don't see flash-based computers yet.

Now, a computer that has, say, 2 or 3 gigs of SDRAM, which loads the OS out of one or two gigs of flash and executes out of ram, with the occasional persistent storage medium (be it external HDD, Strataflash, DOC or some mapped network storage)... well, you'd have a CK60 with a bigger screen. A much better solution, which would solve a lot of the part lifetime problems, as well as the read/write times (except at boot).. And your laptop would be hella small.

-- I