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Apple 'MacBook Mini' to lose HDD, gain Flash?

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Rumours that Apple is working on a sub-notebook computer were given weight this week when a Wall Street analyst claimed the ultra-compact MacBook will use Flash storage.

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu wrote and told investors: "This is a new sub-notebook form factor that will use NAND Flash as primary storage. Our sources indicate that Apple would like to introduce the product in H2 2007."

It won't be the first computer to do so. Sony, for example, is already shipping its Vaio UX1, a compact tablet form-factor machine with 32GB of Flash in place of a hard drive. And SanDisk announced a 1.8in, 32GB internal Flash drive for notebooks and handhelds in January.

The problem is the price - the Sony machine will retail in the UK for around £2,000, even though it doesn't sport a top-of-the-range specification. It's hard to see the MacBook Mini - for want of a better name - coming in well below that figure.

The MacBook Mini in the Apple Store - artist's impression
What the Apple Store might show later this year?

Apple does have an advantage: thanks to the iPod line it's a very big Flash customer, and the volume-purchase agreements it's reached - like the November 2005 $1.25bn deal struck with Hynix, Samsung, Intel, Micron and Toshiba - will not only allow it to feed the iPhone with Flash but also the rumoured MacBook Mini.

The iPhone is key here. It's being pitched as a state-of-the-art product for which a small but sufficient number of consumers will spend top dollar for. A pricey MacBook Mini would clearly fit in with Apple's strategy of offering slick products at a premium.

Apple's MacBook Pro line members are all priced a little way above comparably specced Windows machines, users paying extra for - arguably - a superior operating system and a better-looking machine. That said, build-quality issues that have emerged since the MacBook Pro first shipped a year ago may have tarnished the metal machines' desirability over the hordes of plastic cookie-cutter Windows laptops. Incidentally, it's been suggested too that Apple's existing MacBook and MacBook Pro lines will also gain Flash, albeit in the form of small caches to shorten start-up and application load times, and to help conserve battery life.

And it's worth bearing in mind claims that Apple's considering migrating its entire iPod line to Flash. Could this be the truth behind the sub-notebook claim - or a further signs Apple sees a Flash future?

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