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Apple iPad success could increase solid state drive prices

Apple already consumes nearly one-third of total global NAND flash memory, and with its share expected to grow even more with the launch of the iPad, hard drive makers believe it could delay the transition to solid state drives in traditional PCs.

Industry sources who spoke with DigiTimes indicated that the iPad is a "significant market for flash memory in 2010," meaning that memory supplies will likely be tight again throughout the year. Multiple times in 2009 it was noted that Apple had created a flash shortage, with its iPod and iPhone line of products consuming the largest share of NAND flash.

The constant constraints have kept memory costs high for other PC makers, and also kept solid state drives, long expected to eventually replace traditional hard disk drives, at a high price. But with the iPad likely to take a large chunk of memory supplies, available in capacities up to 64GB, the matter is unlikely to change in 2010, the report noted.

"Though major chip vendors have ramped production using 30nm-class or even sub-30nm processes, NAND flash prices are still on the rise for 2010, according to the sources," the report said.

The NAND flash industry intends to transition to a 20nm manufacturing process in the second-half of 2011, which will drastically reduce prices on memory.

In early 2008, Apple embraced the solid state drive by offering it as an option in its MacBook Air, with a premium price. Solid state drives, compared to their hard disk drive counterparts, are more expensive and offer less storage.

But SSDs can also be much faster than HDDs, and lack the moving parts that can make HDDs prone to failure, particularly in mobile devices that experience a great deal of movement.

Currently, the $1,499 1.86GHz MacBook Air has a 120GB SATA HDD, while the $1,799 2.13GHz configuration comes with a 128GB SSD. Adding a 128GB SSD to a 13-inch MacBook Pro costs $350, while a 256GB upgrade — adding just 6GB more than the standard HDD — costs $800.