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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac Notebooks > Is it possible for Apple to make a flash based Powerbook?

Is it possible for Apple to make a flash based Powerbook?
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siflippant
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Sep 8, 2005, 05:16 AM
 
As almost everyone can see, the iPod Nano is truly an awesome piece of design, especially the slim styling...

Given this was achieved with flash based memory, do you think it's possible that Apple could come out with a Powerbook who's main storage would be based upon flash instead of hard drive media?

Just wondered if this type of memory fell in price enough... and given the possibility of cooler running chips ala Intel... would this mean a slimmer, cooler Powerbook is on the horizon?

Just wishful thinking I guess...

     
Randman
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Sep 8, 2005, 05:28 AM
 
How would you connect via FireWire? Or run a CD?

Flash drives are also quite expensive. Supposedly, Samsung gave Apple a rock-bottom price on the drives to secure the deal.

I would think there may be other technical reasons as well.

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JKT
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Sep 8, 2005, 05:40 AM
 
Also, doesn't Flash type memory have a finite no. of read/writes before it fails? If it does, you would probably burn out the storage too quickly cf. a hard disk given that an OS is constantly read/writing the disk.
     
B Gallagher
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Sep 8, 2005, 06:02 AM
 
Hmmm... 40GB worth of flash storgage would be damn expensive for one thing.. enough so to make this imposible for the time being.
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SEkker
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Sep 8, 2005, 09:42 AM
 
Speed is also a killer. Flash RAM is quick to read, terribly slow to write. Would thus need a huge RAM cache (10 GB?) to load up the OS and apps and store changes to files to allow the execution of those changes to the flash memory in the background.

But then again, one COULD build a protocol 20GBRAM/20GBflash RAM machine with current hardware; maybe in a year or two, a tablet mactel machine could be in the offering.
     
dreilly1
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Sep 8, 2005, 09:51 AM
 
I put Linux on a flash-based computer as part of my Masters' project, which seems like a lifetime ago. JKT and SEkker's points are valid -- yes, flash does have a finite number of writes associated with it, but that number is going up with new technology. Also, Flash is terribly slow to write, slower than a spinning disk drive, even.

The solution is to provide a different type of OS that interacts with the hard drive differently. Throw gobs of RAM in it, and don't allow the OS to page to disk unless absolutely necessary (or not at all!). Buffer writes in DRAM so that a sector is not written multiple times.

I already have one on these types of computers -- it's my Palm Pilot!

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SEkker
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Sep 8, 2005, 09:57 AM
 
Originally Posted by dreilly1

I already have one on these types of computers -- it's my Palm Pilot!
I was thinking the same thing -- well, actually, my old Sony CLIE (now dead), which had a thumbboard keyboard. I used the 1 GB flash card as my hard drive, loaded all apps into the RAM (I 32MB? I forget the full specs).

A few years ago, that WAS a modern computer (screen was 320 x 480, 1/2 x VGA even).

But OS X is SO hard drive dependent, it will need a major rewrite to make this happen (or maybe just set aside some RAM for HD-dependent processes, i.e. a RAM Disk?)
     
Kvasir
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Sep 8, 2005, 10:58 AM
 
I think the biggest barrier is simply cost. There are large scale Solid State, Flash-based storage devices out there (BitMicro offers them up to 155GB - product highlights. Note that the DOD is one of the main users, mainly because they are one of the few clients who can afford these. Awhile back I remember seeing an article of the Navy buying ~40GB FLASH-based "disks" for something like $35K-$50K per disk.
     
Tesseract
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Sep 8, 2005, 12:40 PM
 
Flash is smaller (capacity) and slower than a hard disk. It's also much more expensive (about 10 times the price per gigabyte of a hard disk).

The heat issue is the limiting factor in laptop thickness, I think. That and the size of DVD drives. If the hard disk drive were the one component forcing a larger laptop case, I think the 1.8 inch 'iPod' hard disk (current max capacity 80 GB, I think) would be a better choice than Flash memory.
     
Kvasir
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Sep 8, 2005, 01:43 PM
 
Originally Posted by Tesseract
Flash is smaller (capacity) and slower than a hard disk.
Solid state mass storage devices are one heck of a lot faster than any conventional hard disk on the market. That's why, even at their outrageous prices, they've found a market at all. Texas Memory Systems makes DDR RAM based mass storage devices (up to 128GB) with sustained data throughputs of 1500MB/s (that's MB/s not Mb/s). That is advertised as the fastest data storage device(s) available in the world today.
     
Tesseract
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Sep 8, 2005, 02:18 PM
 
Originally Posted by Kvasir
Solid state mass storage devices are one heck of a lot faster than any conventional hard disk on the market. That's why, even at their outrageous prices, they've found a market at all. Texas Memory Systems makes DDR RAM based mass storage devices (up to 128GB) with sustained data throughputs of 1500MB/s (that's MB/s not Mb/s). That is advertised as the fastest data storage device(s) available in the world today.
That's not Flash memory. That's a bunch of RAM and a big power supply - of course it's fast, but it's not practical for a desktop computer, let alone a laptop which is presumably disconnected from the power mains regularly.
     
Kvasir
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Sep 8, 2005, 02:42 PM
 
Originally Posted by Tesseract
That's not Flash memory. That's a bunch of RAM and a big power supply - of course it's fast, but it's not practical for a desktop computer, let alone a laptop which is presumably disconnected from the power mains regularly.
Google up the products by BiTMicro, SamSung, M-Systems - these companies all make standard solid state disks in normal 3.5" and 5.25" form factors. The guts of these devices is not dissimilar from the Flash RAM in your cheapo USB stick device. All of them achieve sustained data transfer rates will beyond even the fastes FibreChannel hard disks available today - it's RAM, no moving parts, no mechanical latency.

this is not a bunch of RAM and a big power supply. It's certainly suitable for a desktop or rack server - it needs no more power than a SATA hard disk. They also make 1.8" and 2.5" form facter devices for mobile systems.

In contrast Adaptec's 15,000rpm Fibre Channel hard disks see peak transfer rates of 300-500Mbits/s (ie. upto ~60MB/s), and their sustained transfer rates are well below the 44MB/s of the M-System drives.
( Last edited by Kvasir; Sep 8, 2005 at 03:00 PM. )
     
Tesseract
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Sep 8, 2005, 04:30 PM
 
OK, point taken. This looks like a fairly recent technology which I was unaware of. It looks exciting and I'd like to have one in my PowerBook.

But how much does it cost? If it's $20 per GB, which is less than other (slower) flash devices, then a 60GB module for a Powerbook would cost over $1k. Compare to the same capacity 2.5 inch, 5400 RPM hard disk which costs about $100. What do you think Apple will use?
     
Kvasir
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Sep 8, 2005, 04:44 PM
 
Originally Posted by Tesseract
OK, point taken. This looks like a fairly recent technology which I was unaware of. It looks exciting and I'd like to have one in my PowerBook.

But how much does it cost? If it's $20 per GB, which is less than other (slower) flash devices, then a 60GB module for a Powerbook would cost over $1k. Compare to the same capacity 2.5 inch, 5400 RPM hard disk which costs about $100. What do you think Apple will use?
Nope, that's the problem (why I posted earlier that I see the big issue as cost) - the M-Systems drives are in the 10's of thousands (I can't find a link to a price - but I think the 128GB 3.5" disks that the Navy bought were like $25K-$30K apiece). Several of these companies are striving to bring the cost down, but it will take awhile, so for now they are limited to those with big bucks (military,for example, and I believe the Earth Simulator SuperComputer uses some, as does NOAA's big weather supercomputer). I read somewhere the US Army is also buying them for some field equipment, since they also have the advantage of being incredible robust (eg. shock resistant).
     
dreamBweaver
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Sep 10, 2005, 11:23 PM
 
I think 5 years for all iPods to be flash-based, at least.
Looking forward.
     
DKeithA
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Sep 12, 2005, 09:53 AM
 
     
siflippant  (op)
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Sep 29, 2005, 12:29 PM
 
We may never see this in an Apple laptop... but it looks as if it wasn't that far fetched after all...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4292854.stm

     
11011001
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Sep 29, 2005, 04:17 PM
 
For the write/read issues, couldn't one simply make a very large RAID (striped).

That sucks about the finite writes, I didn't know that.
     
Dork.
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Sep 29, 2005, 04:41 PM
 
Originally Posted by DKeithA
Remember, capacities for Flash chips are quoted in the Gigabits. (note I'm not talking about cards or modules that are mabe up of chips, I'm talking about the actual chips themselves.

So, roughly speaking, 16Gbits = 2 GBytes. Still mighty impressive.

Actually, the flash chips that Apple is buying from Samsung for the nano are rumored to be these very same 16Gb chips. The people who have opened up the Nano have noticed two slots for the Flash chips, and 2 16Gb chips are enough for 4GB. The reason why availability is cited in the article as being the second half of 2006 must be that Apple is buying up all their current production!
( Last edited by Dork.; Sep 29, 2005 at 05:03 PM. Reason: removed reference to something I misremembered.....)
     
ryonious
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Nov 19, 2005, 09:01 AM
 
I just read that the new 100$ laptops that MIT and the UN are making for developing countries will be flash based.
     
tooki
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Nov 19, 2005, 12:03 PM
 
As for how using flash storage would decrease size: remember that its size advantages dwindle as you go for higher capacities. Yes, 2GB of flash memory is much smaller than a hard disk. But 100GB of flash memory would approach the size of a 2.5" hard disk. The rest of the system wouldn't be affected. So all in all, I'd say that such a switch wouldn't reduce the overall machine size too much.

As for those RAM disks: what many of them do (including more and more thumb drives) is to essentially run a striped array (like "RAID" 0). If you're reading from or writing to, say, 32, 64 or 128 flash chips simultaneously, you could achieve very high speeds. So indeed, assuming that because most thumb drives are slow that flash has to be slow is wrong.

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