Samsung showed a prototype laptop that uses flash memory at CeBit last week.

The company has developed a higher-capacity version of its solid-state disk (SSD), a flash-memory based replacement for hard disks.

32GB drive - faster, silent and durable

It carries 32GB of flash memory in a case the same size as a 1.8in hard disk. That capacity is double the 16GB of a prototype device announced by Samsung last year and was made possible by the continuing miniaturisation of flash-memory chip technology.

At CeBit the solid-state disk is being demonstrated inside a Samsung laptop computer. Because the SSD is the same size and shape as the computer's hard disk it was relatively easy to replace the hard disk with the SSD, said Yun Mini, a spokeswoman for Samsung.

The SSD technology has three major benefits over hard disks, said Yun. The first is that data access is faster. This could be seen when the SSD-based laptop was booted up alongside the same model machine with a hard disk. The desktop appeared on the screen of the SSD laptop in about 18 seconds while the hard disk drive-based computer took about 31 seconds to reach the same point.

The second advantage comes in durability. Because there are no moving parts in the SSD it is much better at withstanding shock – it's unlikely data will be lost if the laptop is dropped. The third major advantage is that it works silently, said Yun.

Cost a challenge

There is one major hurdle that needs to be overcome: flash memory costs around $30 per gigabyte so the memory needed for the 32GB drive works out to about $960, before any other costs are taken into account.

Samsung thinks there are some military or industrial customers that have specialist applications that would benefit from the SSD and so might be more willing to pay a premium.

"At this moment it would be very expensive," said Yun, "but technology is moving very fast so in the near future it could be cheaper."

Prices for flash memory are falling. In May last year flash memory was about $55 per gigabyte. It might just be a matter of time before such disks reach the mass market.