Samsung Electronics could deliver 256GB solid-state drives next year, quadrupling the capacity of SSDs it is currently shipping to PC makers, the company said.

Samsung recently plugged 64G-byte SSDs into Lenovo's ThinkPad X300 laptops, which only have SSD storage built in, said Jim Elliott, vice president of memory marketing for Samsung Semiconductor. Samsung is due to ship samples of 128G-byte SSDs in the middle of this year.

The 128G-byte samples will only reach hardware makers, and Samsung will continue to work with PC makers like Lenovo and Dell to deliver SSD drives in capacities from 64G bytes to 128G bytes, Elliott said. He declined comment on when Samsung would make SSD drives available directly to consumers, or to say more about 256G-byte SSDs other than that they could be out next year. Samsung is trying to double SSD capacity every 12 months, he said.

In the long term, SSDs may replace hard drives as primary storage for notebook PCs because they are lightweight, power-efficient and fast. Samsung's SATA II SSD drive is two to five times faster than conventional hard drives, weighs 73 grams (0.07 pounds) and consumes 30 percent less power than a typical hard drive, according to Samsung.

Pricing on SSDs are prohibitive at the moment, but the cost-per-gigabyte equation will improve once the industry moves to multilevel cell (MLC) SSDs by the second half of this year, Elliott said. Most of the drives shipping now are single-level cell SSDs (SLCs), which cost more.

The price of a 64G-byte single-level SSD is around US$600, said Nam Hyung Kim, director and chief analyst at iSuppli.

SLCs are roughly twice as fast and have at least an order of magnitude better reliability than MLCs in terms of endurance cycles, said Joe Unsworth, principal research analyst at Gartner.

However, MLC SSDs are far cheaper, less than half the cost of SLC SSDs, Unsworth said. "MLC SSDs are currently sampling, but are having a difficult time proving the performance and reliability" compared to SLC SSDs, Unsworth said.

A drop in prices could also improve adoption of SSDs and stabilize a slowing NAND flash market, Samsung's Elliott said. Concerns about the economy and consumer spending recently prompted research firm iSuppli to slash its NAND flash revenue forecast for 2008, and Intel warned earlier this week that low prices for NAND flash memory chips will have a greater financial impact during the first quarter than company officials had initially anticipated.

Samsung was not a traditional SSD player until recently -- the company wasn't in the market-share ratings in 2006 -- but has done well positioning SSDs with the major PC makers like Dell, Lenovo, Apple and Hewlett-Packard, Unsworth said.

Samsung's SSD volume shipments are small, but the prices are high at capacities of 16G bytes to 64G bytes, so Samsung doesn't need to increase much in terms of volume to have considerable revenue market share gains, Unsworth said. Samsung is the world's largest NAND flash maker, so it is capable of increasing SSD volumes, Unsworth said.

As the SSD market grows, Samsung is bulking up capacity to meet the demands, Elliott said.