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Sunday, May 25, 2008, 09:00 pm PT (12:00 am ET)

Samsung intros 256GB SSD that may reach MacBook Air

Samsung has introduced a 256GB solid-state drive that promises to kickstart the industry with twice the storage and twice the speed of earlier disks while also costing less to manufacture than past models — and having a chance of landing in future Apple notebooks.

Simply called the 256GB FlashSSD, the Serial ATA drive reads in-order data at 200MB per second, or double the rate of Samsung's past 128GB drive. It also boosts write speeds, often a bottleneck on solid-state drives, from 70MB per second to 160MB.

But the real advancement, Samsung says, is in the manufacturing process. Past drives, including the 128GB model, have depended on flash memory using a technique known as single-level cell storage. While quick and reliable, the inability to store more than one bit of data in each cell results in a high cost per drive. The prices of single-level cell drives have often been a hurdle to notebooks, with options for the MacBook Air and other systems frequently costing $1,000 or more to switch to the faster technology.

The 256GB drive changes this by switching to a new approach to multi-level cell storage that allegedly solves the problems of the format. The technology allows data to be much more densely packed, but has traditionally been slow and short-lived. However, a new drive controller not only gives it the same speed as single-level storage but gives it the same kind of longevity, at roughly one million hours before a failure occurs.

As it's more efficient in storing data, the multi-level cell technology is also "considerably" less expensive to make, though Samsung has stopped short of revealing the exact difference.

Until now, Apple has left multi-level cell flash memory to its iPhone and iPod devices, which are less dependent on speed and heavy disk access, but whether the MacBook Air or other Apple portables will use the the storage is unknown. Samsung plans a 1.8-inch version of the 256GB drive that will ship before the end of the year, and has been Apple's sole choice for the MacBook Air's solid-state drive to date: a 64GB drive is used inside Air models configured with the SSD storage option.

Other potential candidates have surfaced since the introduction of the ultraportable, however. Intel is reportedly preparing its own line of high-speed drives for release in the next quarter, while smaller rival STEC is claimed to have wrested the contract for the MacBook Air away from Samsung.

The Korean memory chip producer itself doesn't provide any direct clues, but mentions that it's "actively involved" in helping integrate solid-state drives into the systems of every top computer manufacturer in the US.

Samsung 256GB FlashSSD