Flash solid state disks (SSDs) have undoubtedly gained a strong foothold in the military and enterprise markets. Its capacity to withstand extreme conditions made it fit for on and off ground military operations while speed has been its passport to the enterprise market. Right now, SSDs are moving past these two markets to capture a slice of the consumer electronics market.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association’s Annual Industry Forecast, factory sales of consumer electronics in the US alone is expected to reach a new high of $135.4 billion by the end of 2006. It will be an eight percent increase from the previous year and is expected to post growth consistently over the next few years.

Current technology trends show a great deal of opportunity for flash SSDs. Technology hybrids sprout from everywhere, where mobile phones get to store more photos and video clips or TV sets can record programs for later viewing. By this, gadgets are bound to increase storage capacities as devices get packed with more functionality.

Logically, the industry will continue to break new boundaries as buyers demand smaller, more powerful, higher capacity and longer lasting gadgets and equipment. These in turn will drive demand for SoC components. A report entitled System-on-a-Chip: Technology, Markets estimated the worldwide SOC market at nearly $14.4 billion in 2005. Expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 24.6%, this market will reach $43.2 billion by 2009. Unit growth will average 18.4% on average per year to reach 2.2 billion in 2009, and average unit prices will increase from a current level of $15.2 to $19.6 by the end of the forecast period.

Crossover Benefits

The benefits of speed and ruggedness work well with consumer electronics as it does with the military and enterprise markets. As the age of mobility and instant access to data is ushered in, buyers have put a premium to devices that would allow them to get through their network fast and easy even when on the road. Portable devices have become a commoner’s device to send and receive data, enjoy music and store photos and video clips. This trend is further aided by developments in high-speed wired and wireless connectivity protocols, such as USB, FireWire, WiFi, WiMAX, and Bluetooth – tools that facilitate ease in connecting media devices.

With the advancement in technology, an increasing number of memory-intensive applications have also been developed to meet consumer demand. For example, the resolution of digital still cameras has increased from approximately 1 megapixel to 7 megapixels or greater. Correspondingly, greater capacity is required to store the increasingly larger size of digital photo collections, personal digital audio libraries and digital movies. Flash memory is the predominant memory medium to store such increasing digital media content.

Digital technology advancement has likewise enabled audio, photo and video content to be digitized, transmitted, stored and catalogued. As the accessibility of digital media content continues to proliferate, demand has increased for a range of new digital consumer devices that incorporate semiconductor solutions, such as MP3 players, PC cameras, car navigation systems and broadband video phones. Due to the proliferation of these devices, consumers will demand the ability to create, store, exchange and play back more digital media content than ever before. Flash SSD fits the terrain perfectly with the offer of larger capacities in small form factors.

Best of Both Worlds

Just recently, Microsoft published a white paper entitled Hybrid Hard Disk Support in Windows Vista where the software giant endorsed the move to hybrid hard disk drives by notebook users. This move by one of the industry’s key players only puts solid-state memory on the vantage point by integrating it with conventional magnetic media in what is considered as the fastest growing segment of the personal computer market. Microsoft has obviously seen the benefits of flash memory over other storage media. For one, the notebook’s battery life will last longer as the disk is spun up only when data in the cache needs refreshing or writing to the hard drive. Another benefit is that system boot time can be significantly speeded up.

Judging by the way things are going, there is no doubt that flash SSD deployment in consumer electronics is inevitable. Market data by Gartner Dataquest Inc. shows the NAND flash market can hit $16.2 billion in terms of revenues for 2006, up 42 percent over 2005. But just like any technology, its dominance comes with volatility. An aggressive supply, fierce price erosion, overwhelming maturing demand and contracting elasticity in some applications are among the hurdles it needs to overcome in its bid to take over the consumer electronics market.