Flash-based computers have been around for a decade now, but steep prices have kept them in niche markets, such as industrial and military users, who need a machine that can withstand abuse. Alan Niebel at Web-Feet Research estimates flash drive makers will generate $500 million selling to PC makers this year.
But now, tech observers predict that a steep drop in memory prices will make flash-based PCs and laptops a mass-market item. A more realistic bet: Look for more hybrid machines that combine the best attributes of hard disks and flash memory–and at a fraction of the cost of an entirely flash-based drive.
Flash prices are dropping–at a rate of about 40% a year–but hard drive prices are moving at the same pace, according to Semico Research. That means even as flash drives become more prevalent, hard disks will remain an attractive storage medium.