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Apple and LG plan Flash Laptops 197

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the what-are-you-wearing-under-there dept.
Lucas123 writes "An article in Computerworld states that Apple and LG each plan to launch new laptops — one that's supposed to ship this month — with hybrid disk drives. The new drives are like hybrid cars in that the NAND flash memory works in conjunction with the spinning disk, kicking in data that can be cached like portions of the operating system, which can make for much faster boot up and resume times."
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Apple and LG plan Flash Laptops

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  • Sweet (Score:5, Funny)

    by danpsmith (922127) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:25PM (#18289884)

    Let me be the first to say:

    <borat>Nice</borat>

    • by jacquesm (154384)
      closer but not quite there yet.

      I mean to that totally static solid state 10 ns 100G storage device...

      It's a pity that we have to go through all the intermediary stages before getting
      to the 'real thing', but for now we'll just have to settle for the next step.

      Anybody remember bubble memory ?

  • OK Sure (Score:2, Informative)

    by tak amalak (55584)
    There has been so much speculation, but where's the proof? It'll have to run a slim OS like the iPhone to work well on flash due to the high rate of paging MacOS does.

    http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/index.cfm?newsid=17 434 [macworld.co.uk]
    • Re:OK Sure (Score:5, Funny)

      by tak amalak (55584) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:27PM (#18289930)
      Oh, and can I be the first to coin the term "Flashtops"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by maxume (22995)
      It's really too bad. If they had access to the source, they could totally change the way that OSX was paging, in order to work better with swell new hardware.
    • Re:OK Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheNetAvenger (624455) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:49PM (#18290320)
      There has been so much speculation, but where's the proof? It'll have to run a slim OS like the iPhone to work well on flash due to the high rate of paging MacOS does.


      I won't comment on OSX's paging, other than it needs a bit of refining as it tends to be over agressive.

      However, I think Apple's initial plans are to use the Flash on these drives as more of a Read area for portions of OSX that are accessed at startup or frequently.

      As for the lifespan of Flash, if the device or OS is smart enough to not use the same bits over and over and distributes the writes intelligently(Since areas of Flash are fairly equal in speed), then the lower end bits won't get any more use than the top end of the cache, and in theory the flash should last as long as the HD platters. There are also techniques to extend Flash usage by what bits are used and when, so the limited writes are extended beyond just linear write lifespans of the Flash.

      Remember the HD Mfrs are not stupid about caching or Flash limits, so this is stuff that people a lot smarter than the average SlashDot reader has already considered and worked around.
  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:25PM (#18289902)
    NO, they're NOT "like hybrid cars". Stop it with the inane car analogies.

    The word "hybrid" has a meaning outside automobiles. Originally it was a biological term.

    • The word "hybrid" has a meaning outside automobiles. Originally it was a biological term.

      Yes, we have a few of those posting around these parts...

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      The word "hybrid" has a meaning outside automobiles. Originally it was a biological term.
      Really? I thought it was from X-Files.

    • by dr.badass (25287)
      The word "hybrid" has a meaning outside automobiles. Originally it was a biological term.

      A hybrid drive is more like a hybrid car than a genetic hybrid. The components are distinct, like a Prius or an Insight, not integrated, like a Liger or a Zeedonk. While I sympathize with disdain for car analogies, this one is actually pretty accurate.
      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        A hybrid drive is more like a hybrid car than a genetic hybrid.

        But it's more like a hybrid drive. I think most people here understand how drives work better than they do cars -- I certainly do -- so an "explanation" comparing it to car mechanics is less than illuminating. The word "hybrid" itself tells you the general idea. I also note that in TFA they didn't feel the need to bring in cars to explain the concept.

    • by mdielmann (514750)
      Yep, that's certainly the Ford Pinto of analogies...

      Sorry, couldn't resist. :D
  • fucking analogy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by stratjakt (596332)
    like a hybrid car? It's nothing like a hybrid car. And I would think the average slashdot reader is technically inclined enough to understand what it really is, without the retarded analogy.
    • by Zaatxe (939368)
      And I would think the average slashdot reader is technically inclined enough to understand what it really is, without the retarded analogy.

      You must be new here...
  • Adding more ram for a disk cache is a simpler (and often lower power) solution to speed up disk activity. Writing to flash takes power, leaving the flash on [so you can access it] takes power. But you can't use flash as random access memory.

    Putting the laptop in suspend mode throughout the day (instead of hibernate or off) can also lighten the load on the disk/battery. Bonus points would be for flushing the read cache, compressing the in use memory and turning off as many memory banks as possible during suspend. (I know that's not trivial hence the bonus points).

    Tom
    • by Maddog Batty (112434) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:41PM (#18290188) Homepage
      Adding more ram for a disk cache is a simpler (and often lower power) solution to speed up disk activity.
      Not if your hard drive is switched off (remember this is laptops we are talking about). It takes quite a while and a lot of power for a hard drive to spin up. You can get data from a flash chip within micro secs of switching it on.

      Writing to flash takes power, leaving the flash on [so you can access it] takes power.
      The whole point with flash is that you do not need to leave it on. Once the data is written to it, you can switch it off until the data is needed. RAM needs to have some power (though not much when in standby) to keep the data in it active.
      • Perhaps people would benefit from just not putting applications on a HD? Use the flash as a /usr/bin mount point. Use the HD for /home and /tmp.

        I just don't see the whole "it's a cache" thing working too well.

        Tom
      • Not if your hard drive is switched off (remember this is laptops we are talking about). It takes quite a while and a lot of power for a hard drive to spin up. You can get data from a flash chip within micro secs of switching it on.

        Point here is that if you're replacing the flash with RAM, instead of with disk, then it's already on anyway. If anything, it's faster than the Flash drive -- Flash has better seek time and startup time, but worse throughput.

    • by sholden (12227)
      You can read boot files from the flash before the hard drive has finished spinning up - more memory cache doesn't help there.

      You can leave the drive spun down with writes going to flash until you run out of flash or need to read something not in the flash. You can't do that with memory cache since you'll lose data if power is lost (battery goes flat, whatever)
    • by dr.badass (25287)
      Writing to flash takes power, leaving the flash on [so you can access it] takes power.

      Flash only consumes about as much as RAM (i.e. less than a watt in large quantities).

      But you can't use flash as random access memory.

      This is irrelevant when the point is to use it as non-volatile cache for disk writes.
  • hybrid (Score:5, Funny)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:33PM (#18290040) Homepage
    The new drives are like hybrid cars

    So they get 50mpg?
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      "So they get 50mpg?"

      Or they don't provide anywhere near the improvement the specs claim.
    • by bobdotorg (598873)
      The new drives are like hybrid cars

      So they get 50mpg?


      And drive slow in the car pool / HOV lane?
  • Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:37PM (#18290122) Journal
    Does the flash inside these things die after however-many thousands of writes?

    It sounds to me like the life expentancy of one of these would be greatly diminished over a conventional HDD.

    Has flash technology advanced to the point that the limited write cycle thing isn't an issue, or do they just expect you to replace it every few months to a year (depending on how much you use it)?
    • I got the impression that the information on the flash won't be written to often. It will be used at boot time, therefore won't change much, unless you change the startup sequence.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      No, flash tech hasn't changed much in a long time. It's just gotten faster, larger, and cheaper. NOR flash is much more reliable than NAND, but it's much slower. That is why computers use NOR for boot flash.

      The iPOD Nano uses a NOR boot flash, but NAND for data.

      Hybrid drives are a great idea if done correctly, a nightmare otherwise. Personally, I'm a bit leery of the concept. I wouldn't want to be an early adopter on this one.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by networkBoy (774728)
        NOR Flash:
        More reliable
        Faster reads
        easy to integrate (looks like an sram)
        able to execute code directly from NOR Flash (looks like an sram)
        more expensive

        NAND Flash:
        Faster writes
        PITA to integrate (requires separate controller chip)
        Slower reads
        Inability to directly execute code, must DL to real ram to execute.
        less reliable
        higher density
        cheap

        -nB
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lord Ender (156273)
      It isn't a problem. For Linux. With minor modifications.

      If you put /tmp, /var, and swap on a different disk or RAM disk, then you mount it with the "noatime" attribute (to stop disk writes on every file read), you can have a Linux machine boot from flash just fine. I imagine Apple can make similar modifications to their OS.

      I've been running several servers off of flash drives for about six months, and they are all working beautifully.

      Windows, on the other hand, would blow a flash drive quickly due to all th
      • Eureka! (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Putting swap on a RAM disk, eh...? That totally isn't totally redundant!
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:12PM (#18291518) Homepage

      Does the flash inside these things die after however-many thousands of writes?

      It sounds to me like the life expentancy of one of these would be greatly diminished over a conventional HDD.


      Yes, they do eventually die. No, they won't die dramatically younger than a hard drive. Modern flash uses wear-levelling algorithms, so that no particular bad block will kill the whole flash drive. It'll just make a small block inaccessible when it finally dies, which won't happen very often. OTOH, when a head decides to dig into your constantly spinning mechanical platter and make a noise that makes you feel sick... Well, there just isn't any algorithm fix for that.
  • The article speculates that there would be a miniature version of Mac OS X in these units. I'm not sure what the reasoning for that is.

    If these disks make a MacBook use less battery power, great. But I don't see why the world needs a miniature version of MacOS X.
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:00PM (#18290466)

      If these disks make a MacBook use less battery power, great. But I don't see why the world needs a miniature version of MacOS X.

      Back in the day, Apple used to ship Macs with a copy of pre-OS X, Mac OS on a ROM. It was basically unused, but it did have the advantage that if your hard drive went down or an extension to the OS was making your system unbootable, you could always boot from the ROM and at least do a hardware check to see if your problem was hardware or software related. Apple could re-introduce this feature using Flash memory, although I'm not convinced it is really worth their time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        Back in the day, Apple used to ship Macs with a copy of pre-OS X, Mac OS on a ROM.

        Which macs are these?

        I've never seen one.

        The only Apple systems I've ever known to include an operating system (such as it was) in ROM were the Apple ][ series. Macintoshes include functions in ROM, but it's not a complete OS. Amiga used the same approach, only moreso - to the point where an OS upgrade mandated a ROM upgrade.

        I'm willing to be proven wrong, but I've never even heard of such a thing and every Mac I've ever p

        • by gozar (39392)

          Back in the day, Apple used to ship Macs with a copy of pre-OS X, Mac OS on a ROM.

          Which macs are these?

          I've never seen one.

          The Mac Classic could boot up from ROM using System 6.0.3 and Finder 6.1 [lowendmac.com].

        • http://lowendmac.com/compact/classic.shtml [lowendmac.com], there you are. The fact that you never saw one, doesn't mean they didn't exist :c)
        • Which macs are these? I've never seen one.

          You probably did, but never knew about it. I'm not sure which models had such a feature. I know the mac classics my friend used for a distributed computation, tic-tac-toe project did and that the very early PPC machines, like my old 66Mhz slab did as well. I know the old g3 tower a co-worker bought at a garage sale did not have the feature. I imagine you should look at early PPC machines and the early gen processor machines.

          Macintoshes include functions in ROM, but it's not a complete OS.

          It was a full, bootable OS, but not good for much aside from testing the hardwa

      • by Firehed (942385)
        They pretty much have, substituting the install disc for the Flash memory. Not really full OS X, but you have access to Disk Utility and if you hold down some key (d?), you can go into a hardware diagnostics mode.
      • by soft_guy (534437)

        Back in the day, Apple used to ship Macs with a copy of pre-OS X, Mac OS on a ROM. It was basically unused, but it did have the advantage that if your hard drive went down or an extension to the OS was making your system unbootable, you could always boot from the ROM and at least do a hardware check to see if your problem was hardware or software related. Apple could re-introduce this feature using Flash memory, although I'm not convinced it is really worth their time.

        I am quite convinced it wouldn't be worth their time. Almost fo one used or cared about this feature and as someone already pointed out, you can do the same thing by booting off a DVD or even a flash drive.

  • by samael (12612) * <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:40PM (#18290182) Homepage
    The point is that it can turn off the hard drive while you're working away, until the flash cache is full, and then turn it on long enough to dump the contents. This should save a lot of battery power.
  • Related story from last month: Apple May Be Re-entering the Sub-Notebook Market [slashdot.org].

    Makes good sense, sub-notebooks have a premium on low power consumption / long battery life (more so than ordinary laptops).
  • FTFA:

    Wu, who was among the first analysts to forecast the unveiling of Apple's iPhone music player/phone earlier this year, cited unnamed industry sources as the basis for his report.

    "The time is right for the flash makers to make a move" as flash memory prices decline, Wu said by telephone. "Apple, from what we understand, is pretty much ready. The ball is in the flash vendors' court."

    What do you mean Apple is pretty much ready? To replace a rotating disk with a SSD? I have news for you, that doesn't take much.

    But seriously, I think that this is precisely the WRONG time to do this. Intel's PRAM is on its way. MRAM has finally seen some commercial use (in smaller quantities) and may be more available soon. Flash RAM is crap by comparison to either technology except for its availability and the wait for one or the other to actually become available should not be very long.

    Such a device will be markedly expensive, so adopters will be few. It's an expensive way to get practice working in a particular market segment.

    • Intel's PRAM is on its way.
      I admit I've been out of touch for a while, but this is a total shock! I had no idea...

      Do they know who the father is?
    • by Kjella (173770)
      I must say, I don't understand why flash HDDs are so slow. Your plain memory stick like Corsair Flash Voyager GT 8GB can do 27/34MB w/r. Put four of these in an internal "RAID0" and you should have 32GB @ 108/136MB externally. That's enough to spank any conventional HDD with zero access time as a bonus. Is there any reason not to? They're supposed to be very reliable over their lifetime.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        There are already DRAM drives. Flash HDDs are slow compared to DRAM because they have vastly higher latency even on reads, and absurdly higher write times (well, it's not absurd, it's quite logical.) But no, the only reasons not to use DRAM in drives are cost (high-capacity DIMMs tend to be very spendy per megabyte) and the fact that they don't retain their contents if you lose power, so you need a battery backup, or to never use it for critical data.
  • So now the OS will go in a big flash drive as if it was some kind of firmware (you don't change the os very often, so flash life is not a problem) and leave the spinning disk to what really matters: pr0n!
  • Is it just me... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by keytohwy (975131)
    They keep talking about quick boot times. Is this an issue for anyone? I boot my Mac about twice a month anyway, so boot times are a non-issue. And wake from sleep times in OSX have been consistently quick for years. I understand the other benefits, but these points seem moot.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gnasher719 (869701)
      '' They keep talking about quick boot times. Is this an issue for anyone? I boot my Mac about twice a month anyway, so boot times are a non-issue. And wake from sleep times in OSX have been consistently quick for years. I understand the other benefits, but these points seem moot. ''

      You may have noticed that hybrid flash/harddisk combinations are always mentioned in one breath with the "improvements" that Vista is promising, like faster boot times by using some Microsoft-only technology. And of course it is
  • If I could replace my OS drive with one of these really large flash drives to cut down on heat/noise, but I know there's a limited # of writes you can do with these drives...
  • by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:31PM (#18290878) Homepage Journal

    First, rumor has it is all this is. An analyst put it in a report and everyone is passing it on a valid. Especially with Apple folks should know that rumors & speculation are just that.

    Next it was widely reported a few years ago when Apple made a huuuge futures purchase on flash memory getting an excellent price and assuring their supply. Someone more motivated then I can crunch the numbers but even with however many million iPods sold I'm guessing Apple still has flash memory to play with and a decent price.

    Then there's the non-US market. Yes, Americans want 21" screens, 6 speakers, 200 GB hard drives, and accept 30 minute battery life from their portables (oftentimes too big even for American laps). The rest of the world typically wants really small, really light, just enough computing enough power for on-the-road use, and 12 hour battery life. Thus an ultraportable will fill a huge hole in the Apple product line, one many posters to /. may not even be fully aware of.

    With all of that in mind do I expect Apple will come out with some sort of clever new device that is small, robust, and runs for longer then others on the market? I wouldn't be surprised. Apple has innovated time & time again, particularly on laptops, and part of their market is remarkably price-insensitive (I've rarely heard "Get me the best Dell, whatever the price!", I've heard that regularly about Macs.) What starts at the top often soon moves down.

    Finally, Apple still does largely design their own motherboards, owns their own OS, can implement a new technology without needing to coordinate it among many parties. But do I think J. Random Analyst is going to be all that insightful about Apple's hardware future? Not particularly, he's just an excuse to post another story about everyone's favorite conundrum.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PsychoSid (683168) *
      Pretty good point. I would hazard a guess and say those flash memory supply mountains could be in reserve for the iPhone though rather than a flash based laptop.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mrchaotica (681592) *

      Then there's the non-US market. Yes, Americans want 21" screens, 6 speakers, 200 GB hard drives, and accept 30 minute battery life from their portables (oftentimes too big even for American laps). The rest of the world typically wants really small, really light, just enough computing enough power for on-the-road use, and 12 hour battery life. Thus an ultraportable will fill a huge hole in the Apple product line, one many posters to /. may not even be fully aware of.

      Hey asshole, the US-bashing was completel

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:40PM (#18290998)
    the battery power issue has been mentioned, but also keep in mind laptop hard drives tend to either be A. - lower RPM than desktop drives or B. - switched off for power conservation.

    this means much higher response lag whenever laptops have to page in/out (and the reason i opted to upgrade the ram on the laptop to as much as the desktop).

    apply this to the entire apple line and you suddenly have a considerable performance edge over competitors (using the same software configurations).

    apply it to desktops as well for extra power conservation and performance per watt as well (and with desktops you have a larger case to include more flash into the drive).
  • OLPC. I would buy a consumer version of one of those in an instant.
    • by Brunellus (875635)

      cheap at double or triple the price, yes. OLPC + vim == ideal note-taking for student me.

  • I see cantbuyityet in the tags list, but this article isn't tagged. It should be.

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