Users may soon see flash-based disks in laptops and other mobile computers after Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. announced that it’s already offering a 32G-byte drive to customers, the beginning of an industry change that could have sweeping consequences in the technology industry.

The South Korean technology company showed off its 32G-byte solid-state disk (SSD), a flash-memory based replacement for hard-disk drives, at the Cebit IT trade show in Hanover, Germany, earlier this month. On Tuesday, the company said it’s already offering the drive to customers.

The company expects the market for SSD drives to reach US$4.5 billion by 2010 thanks to the growth of mobile computing, according to Chang-Gyu Hwang, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Samsung’s semiconductor division, who was speaking at Samsung’s third annual Mobile Solutions Forum in Taipei.

The launch of the device will likely reignite the debate on whether or not flash-based drives can edge hard-disk drives out of the market, or at least take a share of the storage space. It will also increase the popularity and use of the flash memory chips used to make SSDs — NAND flash memory — which should drive down prices and ensure their adoption in an ever growing number of devices. The chips have a few advantages over other memory technologies, such as the ability to retain data even when power is shut off, and battery power savings thanks to a lack of moving parts.

Compared to hard-disk drives, SSD technology has a number of advantages. SSDs run silently, accesses data faster than hard-disk drives, use less battery power, weigh less, and are more durable,according to Samsung.

At a Cebit demonstration, an SSD-based laptop was booted up alongside the same model machine with a hard-disk drive. It only took about 18 seconds for Windows to open on the SSD laptop, while the hard-disk drive-based computer took about 31 seconds.

A lack of moving parts inside an SSD is the key to its durability, ability to run silently, and power saving attribute. Hard-disk drives spin, which limits their life span, makes noise, and taxes a gadget’s battery.

Samsung has also made the SSD the same size and shape as a 1.8-inch hard-disk drive, ensuring relatively easy replacement in laptops. The SSD drive Samsung is offering to customers weighs just 15 grams, compared to 61 grams for a comparable hard-disk drive.

The downside of SSD technology is cost per gigabyte, which will ensure flash memory is used mainly by military and industrial customers initially, Samsung has said.

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