Solid-state memory makes splash with government users

LAS VEGAS ? Flash memory thumb drives played a major role in the demise of floppy-disk drives. Now it looks like flash memory could significantly cut into the use of hard drives.

At the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show, several hardware vendors displayed tiny PCs that ditch traditional spinning hard drives for more reliable solid-state memory. Government customers, along with business and consumer users, like the reliability, speed and ease of management that solid-state PCs offer.

The green-and-white XO Laptop from the One Laptop Per Child organization has a 1G flash drive. Although small by today's standards, the PC ? designed for educational use in developing countries ? uses other innovations to compensate for the scant memory, said Rebecca Gonzales, One Laptop Per Child liaison at Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

One of those innovations is that the notebooks are designed to automatically create a mesh network for collaborating.

"With the mesh network, if four of your friends are using their laptops that memory can be shared," Gonzales said. "So you don't just have the one gigabyte on your own laptop, you have 5 gigabytes of storage on the mesh."

If the group is working on a text document, one user with little free memory can ask another user with more memory to save the work, Gonzales said. "It is collaborative and a shared space as well."

The concept of being able to share things like pictures, video and data is especially attractive to some government customers.

Although the XO Laptops are designed for overseas markets, many ultraportable PCs with flash drives are available in the United States. VIA Technologies Inc. supplies low-power processors for several vendors, including OQO Inc., which specializes in ultramobile PCs.

Using a computer with less onboard memory is possible today because of the availability of broadband, Web applications and low-power components, said Timothy Brown, international marketing manager at VIA Technologies.

"Low power means low heat, which means machines do not need fans and cooling systems," Brown said. "Now servers can do the heavy lifting when it comes to storing and running applications and data."

Government customers are also attracted to the security advantages of storing data on a protected server rather than having it on a vulnerable device, he said.

Lenovo, the maker of ThinkPad notebooks, introduced a new IdeaPad notebook with a flash drive. Its light weight and speed are what's most attractive to customers, said Tom Ribble, director of ThinkPad Product Marketing.

"A solid-state drive provides faster application load time, faster boot time and a quieter system," Ribble said. "It is also a little bit lighter and can be packed in a thinner system."

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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