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Data Storage Businesses Apple

Apple and LG plan Flash Laptops 197

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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  • 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).

  • by samael ( 12612 ) * <> 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.
  • 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.

  • by GiovanniZero ( 1006365 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @12:52PM (#18290356) Homepage Journal
    Actually, OS X is superior when it comes to sleep. Because Mac's have a set amount of hardware so they can develop for their own platform and make sure everything is fine tuned and working well. 31650 [] ->This discussion talks about hardware differences and shows one of the reasons that Apple has superior stability.

    Windows and even linux machines can have such a wide variety of hardware and all it takes is one bad driver to make sleep or suspend not work. Furthermore suspend2 for x86-64 doesn't come compiled in most distros of linux and you have to recompile the kernel to get it to work.

    While your notebook may not have any problems with sleep it is probably the exception. Lots of windows boxes will sleep but when you bring them back up sound won't work or usb ports won't work. It's a pain.

  • 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.

  • Is it just me... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by keytohwy ( 975131 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:14PM (#18290670)
    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.
  • by maggard ( 5579 ) <> 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.

  • 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).
  • Re:Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LOTHAR, of the Hill ( 14645 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @01:42PM (#18291042)
    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:Question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:04PM (#18291390) Homepage
    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 the registry bullshit, and due to its inflexible design.

    Solid-state computers are going to be Unix-based for at least the next 10 years. Microsoft is always late to the game where new technology is concerned.

  • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by forkazoo ( 138186 ) <> 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.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @02:13PM (#18291534)
    Actually, that was not my argument at all. I was saying that the things improved by a "hybridizing" a car are very closely analogous to the things improved by "hybridizing" a hard drive, no matter what the definition of hybrid is:
    • fuel capacity <-> hard disk capacity
    • cost <-> cost
    • power consumption <-> fuel efficiency
    • throttle response <-> latency

    I agree that car analogies can be forced and bad, but this one is actually pretty good.
  • by lostatredrock ( 972881 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @04:37PM (#18293582)
    As much as it pains me to say this and trust me it's painful, I think you have actually made a good point there.

    Damn you!
  • Re:Is it just me... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Friday March 09, 2007 @05:35PM (#18294320)
    '' 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 nonsense. If you use your Mac 40 hours a week, and boot twice a month, even if it took two minutes to boot (and it doesn't), that would be just 0.04% of your time. The only reason why anyone would care about boot time is because it is something that the blathering marketing idiots can measure easily. Same for this meme that you would store applications in flash memory to make them start faster. It is absolute nonsense.

    The sensible thing to do is to have some good caching algorithms that take into account the special characteristics of flash and hard drive, and let them do their thing.

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