Updated from 5:27 p.m. ESTFlash memory's budding campaign to conquer the PC got a boost Tuesday when Samsung officially debuted a notebook hard drive based entirely on the popular semiconductor technology. The 32-gigabyte NAND flash drive is designed to replace a laptop's conventional hard-disk drive, bringing benefits such as faster boot-up time and longer battery life. At a time when some analysts and investors are fretting that overenthusiasm for flash memory is causing manufacturers to produce too many of the chips, Samsung's hard drive offered a hint of the potential for new markets to soak up the increasing supply. But while flash hard drives offer many advantages, analysts say they're not about to replace conventional hard-disk drives anytime soon. "Samsung is basically trying to make the market aware of their solid-state disk drive with their announcement, and I think they would expect that that market opportunity is really rather niche at this point," says John Rydning, the hard-disk drive research manager at industry research firm IDC. The reason is simple: Flash is astronomically more expensive than hard-disk drives. An 80GB notebook hard drive costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $130; flash memory costs around $50 per gigabyte, according to analysts. At that rate, a 32GB flash drive would cost a whopping $1,600. Samsung has not yet released any details on pricing for the flash drive. Don Barnetson, the director of flash marketing at Samsung Semiconductor, acknowledged that the price of flash today makes the 32GB drive much more expensive than what the average consumer would be willing to pay. The 32GB drive is "very much a technology demonstration vehicle," said Barnetson. But 8GB and 16GB versions of the drive could prove particularly attractive to the emerging ultracompact notebook segment, he said. According to Samsung, its flash hard drive weighs half as much as a comparatively sized hard-disk drive and reads data three times faster. The flash drive also uses only 5% of the electricity needed to power a hard-disk drive. "There are consumers who don't need a 50GB drive," said Barnetson. "They would rather have a smaller, lighter, less power-hungry drive." Samsung says it believes the worldwide market for solid-state disk drives will total $4.5 billion by 2010, up from an expected $540 million this year. NAND flash memory retains data even when a power supply is switched off, making it a popular technology for storing digital music and photographs on new electronic gadgets such as MP3 players, cell phones and digital cameras.