Flash drives hit by high failure rates

Flash drives hit by high failure rates

Laptops with flash memory-based solid state drives (SSDs) are being returned at an alarming rate because of technical failures and performance shortcomings, according to a study released this week by Avian Securities.

Avian, a brokerage firm whose research covers the high-tech and aerospace industries, said that an unnamed large manufacturer is seeing return rates of 20 to 30 percent on SSD-based notebooks, thanks to failures and performance issues.

Returns due to technical failure ran at 10 to 20 percent, 10 times higher than failure rates for conventional drives, the report said.

Another 10 percent were due to lack of expected performance gains, the report said. Flash-based SSDs are intended to be significantly faster than disk-based drives, due to factors such as the lack of moving parts.

The findings do not reflect well on the current trend toward SSD-based laptops. Offered by manufacturers such as Apple, Dell, Lenovo and Sony, they are significantly more expensive than conventional laptops, with the price tag justified by characteristics such as light weight, silence and fast data access speeds.

Dell, one of the manufacturers pushing SSD laptops most aggressively, declined to comment on failure rates, but a Dell spokeswoman admitted that "SSD technology is new and will have growing pains."

Nevertheless, Dell defended the technology and said its drawbacks are rapidly fading away. Capacity, at first limited to 32GB sizes, has now doubled, with 64GB drives available, and prices are expected to fall as the technology becomes more widely used, the company said.

In addition, while the first generation of SSDs performs near the levels of 5,400 RPM hard-disk drives, Dell last month announced out the faster Dell Flash Ultra Performance SSD, based on Samsung's SATA II-SSD technology, in 32GB and 64GB capacities.

The new drives deliver a 35 percent overall performance gain over a standard 2.5-inch 5400 RPM notebook hard drive using SYSmark '07, Dell said.

The latest generation of drives shows that manufacturers are improving performance and reliability without adding much to prices, Dell said.

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