Over the past few years, the humble flash memory - most commonly found in USB memory sticks, digital cameras and mobile phones - has been slowly killing off other forms of data storage. Just as flash memory has been replacing floppy, Zip and compact discs, it is now set to take on the largest storage component in any computer - the hard disk drive. By combining flash chips on a dedicated circuit board, some laptop manufacturers are now experimenting with solid state drives (SSDs) in their premium models.
Using an SSD has a number of advantages. With no moving parts and a smaller form factor, devices can be made lighter, more reliable and less susceptible to bumps and shocks that can damage regular hard drives. An SSD uses less power and takes less time to boot up, making it ideal for laptop computing. With no mechanical parts and less power consumption, an SSD has the added benefit that it also runs cooler and quieter.
As with many early technologies, an SSD is an expensive option, typically adding about $800-$1000 in additional cost to a high-end model. SSDs are also quite limited in size, with only 32 or 64 gigabyte versions available. With Microsoft Vista, Office and other typical business applications installed, the free space on a 32 gigabyte drive can quickly shrink to about 10 gigabytes. Anyone with more than a few years' work files or other media (such as music and movies) will find it hard to fit everything on the current range of SSDs.
Undeterred, BRW took a closer look at three of the latest ultra-light laptops, each with an SSD and running Vista, to see if the technology lives up to its hype.
Fujitsu Lifebook T2010
The Fujitsu Lifebook T2010 is a convertible laptop that swivels into a
pen-based touch screen tablet PC. Tablet PCs are ideally suited for an SSD as even the slightest decrease in weight enhances the "one-handed" operation of the device. The T2010 had the highest "Windows
Experience Index" (3.1) due to its 965 Intel video card, and outperformed other tested models. The T2010 rates highly on security with a smart card and fingerprint reader and is equally suited to the shop floor or the boardroom. The T2010 SSD version will be released in Australia in October, 2007.
Toshiba Protégé R500
Arguably the smallest and lightest 12-inch laptop in the market, the
Toshiba R500 is less than one kilogram in weight. The R500 introduces new technologies that complement the advantages of the SSD option, such as a low-power, wafer-thin LED display that is suitable for indoor or outdoor lighting conditions. The R500 is the only model with a 64 gigabyte SSD and it performed the fastest across all tests. For the price, you would expect all the bells and whistles, and the R500 does not disappoint with features such as a finger print reader and 802.11n wireless technology (the fastest available).
The Toshiba rates highly on "X factor" and is likely to turn heads - a
closer look at the finish reveals a silver plastic shell that although very light, flexes with each keystroke. The R500 is almost too light,
needing two hands to pry it open - but for the highly mobile executive,
12.5 hours of claimed battery life will more than make up for it.
Dell Latitude D430
The Dell Latitude D430 was the sturdiest of the SSD models tested. With an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz T7700 processor, the D430 packs a lot of punch for a small form factor laptop. Not having the same visual flair as the Toshiba or Fujitsu, the D430 makes up for it with features such as an accompanying docking station, expandability and more processing power. A workhorse, the Dell is a suitable option for the business person looking for mobile productivity rather than impressing the person at the next table. The D430, although enhanced by the SSD option, does not perform as well as other models and is slightly heavier, despite having an external DVD drive. BRW
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