Fujitsu offers flash-based notebooks

Falling prices, rising capacity make flash a more attractive option for ultra-portable notebooks

Fujitsu Computer Systems is fortifying two models in its notebook line by offering the option of solid state drives for rugged applications like health care and aviation, the company said Monday.

Fujitsu is offering flash memory on its LifeBook P1610 and B6210 models, both touchscreen, ultra-portable notebooks. It will continue to sell them with their current design of hard disk drives. The company began offering flash memory on some of its P-series and Q-series notebooks in Japan two months ago, but this is the first time the feature will reach North America.

Customers will have to pay more for NAND flash memory than traditional spinning magnetic drives, but they will gain benefits like reduced power consumption, lower latency with data traffic, faster boot times, and reduced noise, heat and weight, said Paul Moore, Fujitsu's senior director of mobile product marketing.

Although flash memory is popular on handheld devices like smartphones and MP3 music players, it has generally been viewed as too expensive for mass-market notebooks. But in recent months, flash prices have been falling and storage capacity rising so fast that several vendors are now considering it for new applications.

Last week Apple declined to comment on rumors that it would soon offer a flash-based "subnotebook." And Intel plans to embed flash storage on motherboards as part of the next-generation Centrino notebook platform it will launch in the second half of 2007.

Flash prices will continue to drop sharply over the coming year, following the model of USB-compatible memory sticks, Moore said. Choosing the 16GB flash drive option adds $700 to the price of notebook, and choosing the 32GB flash drive adds $1,200. But that disparity won't last long.

"Once they get the dies made and start cranking them out, it's like printing stamps. It's just supply and demand. Today it would be cheaper to buy an SL Mercedes than a 200GB solid state drive," Moore said. "Give it a couple years, and everybody's going to be walking around with these. Then your biggest concern is going to be breaking your display."

Another drawback to flash memory is its limited capacity. Fujitsu is offering a choice of 16GB or 32GB flash drives, compared to the range of 30GB to 80GB it sells in hard drive models. But Moore said customers in finance or medicine can live with that restriction because a flash drive will preserve their data if they drop the notebook, and IT administrators often boost security by storing valuable files on a networked server instead of portable notebook.

Fujitsu did not list prices, since it is selling the notebooks only on a project basis as customers ask for them. The LifeBook P1610 weighs 2.2 pounds, has an 8.9-inch screen, and uses a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 processor to run Windows Vista Business, XP Professional or XP Tablet PC Edition. The B6210 weighs 3.2 pounds, has a 12.1-inch screen, and uses the same chip to run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition or XP Professional.

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