Samsung has developed a flash memory-based replacement for conventional hard-disk drives.

It intends beginning mass production of the device in August, it said on Monday.

The solid-state disk (SSD) uses memory chips in place of the mechanical recording system used inside hard-disk drives, and has several advantages including lower power consumption and higher data rates. Flash memory technology isn't new and the advantages have been known for years but such solid-state disks have never been commercially produced before because flash has one big disadvantage over hard-disk storage: it's much more expensive.

Capacities up to 16GB

Samsung announced basic details of the SSD on Monday but declined to provide any information about its price.

The Seoul company is planning SSDs with parallel ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) interfaces in capacities up to 16GB. The 16GB devices will contain 16 memory chips holding 8Gigabits each, it said. Such chips sell for about $55 each on the spot memory market, according to DRAM Exchange Tech. That would put the chip cost of the 16GB SSD at almost $900.

Because Samsung is a major manufacturer of flash memory chips, it can likely source the chips internally at a lower price. Even so, it will be difficult to compete with hard-disk drive makers on cost in a market in which 30GB notebook hard drives cost under $200 each.

Advantages: Silent, lightweight, robust

The SSD operates silently, consumes 5 per cent of the power used by a hard disk, and weighs less than half as much. It can read data at up to 57MB per second and write it at up to 32MB per second.

Because SSDs don't use moving parts, they are much more resistant to harsh environmental conditions or shock and are thus suitable for industrial or military markets, said Samsung. Such users are less focused on low-cost components than the consumer market.

Samsung expects the SSDs will find a home in specialized portable products such as tablet PCs or laptops, said Samsung spokeswoman Suyeon Chae. Three versions are planned: a 16GB version that will be about the same size as a 2.5-inch hard-disk drive, and 8GB and 4GB versions that will be a similar size to 1.8-inch drives.

The price difference between flash memory and hard-disk storage has been narrowing and continues to do so, said Simon Woo, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in Seoul. While per-bit prices for the type of memory produced by Samsung are dropping at between 30 per cent and 40 per cent per year, the equivalent price for hard-disk storage is falling by about 20 per cent annually, he said.

Eventually, SSDs will be able to compete with hard-disk storage on price but that time is several years away, he said.