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Flash Poses Small Threat To HDD Biz

Falling prices and higher capacities for flash memory may help push out hard drives as the preferred storage type for portable consumer electronic devices, but hard drive manufacturers have little to fear otherwise from their solid-state competitors, according to a recent report from Current Analysis.

Nicole D’Onofrio, Current Analysis’s mobile computing analyst, said flash memory has the potential to replace the 2-inch-size drives that now serve as the backbone of the portable music player category. Adding to flash’s popularity is the fact that consumers enjoy the smaller form factor and low battery consumption that flash allows, and they are willing to pay a premium for them.

Despite these issues, D’Onofrio, doubts flash will displace hard drives in a wide range of products hard drives.

“The hard drive’s storage role in devices with large storage needs, such as DVR devices and PCs, will remain strong,” she said, adding hard drives are still more cost effective.

D’Onofrio said there is an opportunity for hard drive makers to salvage the portable product market by introducing sub-2-inch drives with even more capacity for the same price.

Flash is less likely to directly threaten hard drives’ dominance as the preferred storage medium for devices requiring large storage capacities. The median hard drive size now available is between 80GB and 100GB with 250GB hard drives quickly gaining with about 18 percent of the market, according to Current Analysis. Comparable capacity flash-memory modules are not expected for several years when 128GB flash is expected on the market.

One way D’Onofrio sees flash infringing upon this market is through hybrid flash/hard drive devices. She noted Samsung’s hybrid drive using that company’s NAND flash technology, now under development with a 2006 expected ship date, will allow the construction of hard drives offering flash’s quick start up and low power consumption tied to their usual large capacities.