How Long Until We Have Laptops With No Moving Parts?

Today I was reminded about a thought I was having earlier this year by a twitter from Garrick Van Buren about the new ultra-thin MacBooks. It seems altogether likely that the next laptop computer that I buy will have no moving parts. Currently the only moving parts in the MacBook that I have now are in the optical drive, the fan, and the hard drive. This is of course not counting the moving parts which I move myself - the buttons to actually interact with it and the lid. Apparently the optical drive in the laptop is going the way of the floppy drive in laptops, so there is only the fan for the CPU and the hard drive. Hard drives are also heading toward the realm of non-moving parts with solid state drives gaining acceptance and size. You can now get a 32GB solid state flash drive for pretty cheap, and they are sure to go in the direction all storage goes - faster, larger, and cheaper. That only leaves the fan which cools the CPU. It is not impossible to run a high-end computer without a fan nowadays, but unfortunately the heatsinks required in order to keep the most crucial part of the computer without burning up. The OLPC hardware is already in some ways the wave of the future - there are no moving parts at all. Unfortunately it is also completely underpowered and it’s not possible to run a ton of programs on it. I’m not sure that a solid-state laptop for the general public will ever be possible with the general increase in computing power, but if it happens, I would bet it happens in the next 5 years.

People will be pointing out that the optical drive being missing is a new and novel concept and that Apple is pushing the boundaries of laptops, but they are hardly the first ones to ship a laptop without a optical drive. The world of sub notebooks have been taking out the optical drive in their smaller models for a while now. One model that I’ve seen around quite a bit is the Sony PictureBook which got quite a lot of press because it featured the Transmeta Crusoe chip. There are also a number of other sub notebooks which don’t have a drive. However, I don’t believe that the drives will be replaced by flash drives or network installs - there will always be a need for boot media for completely broken computers. The common solution in the sub notebook world is to just have a drive which attaches when it’s needed, in the mode of the first drives. The solution which uses flash drives is not likely to happen anytime soon - software isn’t getting any smaller, and the cost of flash media isn’t falling quickly enough to catch up with the cost-effectiveness of pressing CDs.