The Financial Times published an article that predicts

Prices of flash memory chips have plunged to a critical “tipping-point” that could see them replacing hard discs as the storage technology of choice on laptop computers within two years.

Since everyone seems to underestimate just how fast flash prices decline, I take that to mean by the middle of next year. For early adopters, this year, if the promised flash solid state disks (SSD) ever ship.

Toshiba is a believer
The disk vendor most vulnerable to the change is Toshiba, who is heavily dependent on the notebook drive market. The article notes the company is placing a one trillion yen – about $8 billion – on semiconductor technology including flash:

The company plans a massive expansion of Nand flash chips manufacturing over the next three years, despite the 70 per cent collapse in prices over the course of 2006. Toshiba itself is forecasting a further 60 per cent slide in flash memory prices in the current calendar year.

The article forecasts that flash SSD prices per gigabyte could drop to as little as 2x over 1.8″ notebook disks next month. Some analysts believe this is a critical tipping point.

Great news for storage consumers
Big investments in flash production will drive prices down fast, probably even faster than the planners believe. These are highly automated process plants designed to be run 7×24 with huge fixed costs, so the pressure to sell at almost any price is huge. It may be messy for Toshiba stockholders, but it will be very good for consumers.

The StorageMojo take
We won’t see the real advantages of notebook SSDs until systems designed from the ground up to use them are shipping. That means good wear-leveling controllers to maximize life (see RAM-based SSD’s Are Toast – Yippie ki-yay! for some very surprising numbers), married to ultra-efficient processors and comm chips with smaller, lighter batteries, to create a new generation of ultra-light sub-notebooks.

It history is any guide, Apple will create a sub-notebook based upon flash and an architecture similar to the iPhone. They’ve typically used each platform design for at least two form factors: MacBook and Mini; MacBook Pro and iMac; so an iPhone and a MacMicro is an obvious progression.

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