With the latest crypto-announcement of a 128 GB, 2.5″ SATA flash drive, my patience with the flash disk folks is at an end. They aren’t shipping flash drives and, as near as I can tell, they have no intention of doing so for quite some time.

Last April Samsung announced a 32 GB flash drive, and theoretically started shipping some in an overpriced, last gen notebook. Then PQI announced a 64 GB SATA flash drive in August.

Just try to buy one. They don’t exist.

We’re being gamed
A product is announced when the vendor provides specs, availability and pricing. What we’ve been seeing are prototypes from vendors who are hoping to drum up interest from OEM customers, not real products. The vendors don’t have the vision to market these products and aren’t investing in the market.

Vendors in a daze
Flash drives cost a good deal more than disk drives. The raw chips – single level NAND – are currently about $6 per GB. Toss in the SATA interface chip, a circuit board, logic chip, assembly, connector and packaging and maybe you are talking, outside $7 a GB, and less on a larger drive. So let’s pass that through efficient distributors and they should be able to sell for $9-10 GB.

Is there a market or not?
Taiwan and China, where most of the flash thumb drives come from, excel at mass production. What we’re seeing is a kind of rain dance, where by talking about the products the vendors are hoping to get a launch customer who’ll pony up an order big enough to justify the investment required to start volume production of the products.

Maybe that is the only way. I hope not.

Early adopters are out there – if you start shipping
When USB flash thumb drives came out, six or seven years ago, they weren’t cheap either: over a dollar per megabyte. But early adopters, like me, saw the advantages and bought anyway, helping fuel the business.

I believe the same kind of dynamic is waiting to be harnessed for SATA flash drives. Execs with a $2,000 ultralight notebook would be willing to pay $500-$800 for another couple of hours of weightless battery life – and bragging rights. Plus the performance advantages, especially on boot, since Windows sleep mode has almost never worked right on any laptop I’ve had. I also think a bunch of folks would like to see what these drives could do for web-servers and database log files.

The StorageMojo take
My suspicion is that the vendors lack confidence in their wear-leveling algorithms (see RAM-based SSD’s Are Toast – Yippie ki-yay! for more on that topic), so they don’t want to go to market with a product that they can’t put a competitive (with disk drives) warranty on. C’mon guys! This is a huge opportunity to move upmarket. The margins have to be better than thumb drives.

Comments welcome, as always, especially if you’ve bought such a drive. Moderation turned on to encourage comment spammers to get a real job.