Dell Gives Nod to Flash Drives

The computer maker is the first major player to offer flash-based hard drives in its machines.
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Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

said it will begin offering flash-based hard drives in certain notebooks, adding another brick that flash memory is laying in the path to reach the PC market.

Although chipmakers have been peddling flash-based hard drives for many months, Dell's move gives the technology its first significant endorsement from a major player in the PC market.

Dell, the world's No. 2 PC maker, said Tuesday that it is now offering a so-called solid state hard drive made by

SanDisk

(SNDK)

in two of its notebooks and said it was committed to offering the drives across its lineup of corporate notebooks.

"A solid-state drive is an excellent storage technology for our mobile users," Dell CTO Kevin Kettler said in a statement. "We are committed to leading the industry in delivering these new drives and will offer them across Dell's next generation of Latitude products."

Flash-memory chips store data even when a device's power is switched off, making it an ideal form of storage for consumer-electronics gadgets such as MP3 players, digital cameras and cell phones.

But the technology has yet to play much of a role in PCs -- something that many of the companies making flash chips, including SanDisk,

Samsung

and

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, are doing their best to change.

Next month, Intel is set to roll out its Santa Rosa chipset for notebook PCs, which will include the option of placing flash memory directly on the machine's motherboard as a means to speed up performance.

Both Samsung and SanDisk have unveiled flash-based hard drives for PCs in recent months.

Flash-based hard drives seek to improve PC performance by replacing the traditional mechanical hard drive used to store files and other data with flash memory.

By replacing the spinning magnetic disks with flash chips, the hard drive consumes less battery power, retrieves information faster and is more resistant to the shocks that laptops are often exposed to.

Of course, those benefits come at a price. Dell's Latitude D420 notebook for instance features a 60-gigabyte hard drive for $1,605, according to Dell's Web site. Selecting the 32-GB solid state hard drive adds $450 to the price, while effectively cutting the amount of storage in half.

Dell is betting that certain types of computer users, notably corporate road warriors, will be willing to pay a premium for those advantages.

The company is ahead of the pack in bringing the technology to market. Rival PC maker

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

does not appear to offer any mainstream notebooks featuring flash memory hard drives. An H-P representative did not return calls on the company's plans in regard to flash.

Many industry observers believe the price of flash memory will not be low enough to make it viable option for average PC consumers until around 2009. By moving in early, Dell could tap into a small, but lucrative, market.

Shares of Dell gained 6 cents in Wednesday midday trading to $24.85.