Last spring, solid-state hard drives (SSD) -- large-scale computer storage based on flash memory chips rather than the traditional spinning magnetic discs -- were the talk of the town. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Samsung took the lead, and memory specialists Micron (NYSE: MU), SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK), and SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD) joined in with SSD products of their own.

There were two issues holding SSD back from mainstream success: product pricing and reliability concerns. Traditional hard drive makers Seagate (NYSE: STX) and Western Digital (NYSE: WDC) breathed a sigh of relief. But the quick, silent, and shock-resistant devices are coming down in price now that a glut of flash chips on the market has been driving down component costs for over a year. And this week, a Samsung spokesman said that the reliability problem has been misunderstood and overhyped.

A flash device might be rated at 100,000 write cycles before the memory cell wears out (reading the data doesn't wear the chip down), which sounds low when you've seen that hard drive light flashing all day, every day. But controller chips spread the writes evenly, so it would take years of massive use to kill a large solid-state drive.

Prices still need to come down a bit further before the average desktop PC, notebook, or server system comes with SSD storage by default. You can buy an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) MacBook Air with a 64GB SSD instead of the standard 80GB hard drive, but it will set you back $1,300 extra. And the speed benefits of this technology really only show up in some intense server workloads.

Seagate says that SSDs won't hurt its business in the foreseeable future -- it's at the top of the "technology hype cycle" right now and will go through a "trough of disillusion" before climbing the "slope of enlightenment" to a "plateau of productivity." That's the entrenched incumbent pooh-poohing an emerging threat, and I do believe that the scale of Seagate's SSD complaints is off by a mile.

That scenario will probably play out to some degree, but the "plateau" is closer and more reachable than Seagate wants you to think. This could be the growth driver that makes Micron a successful turnaround story, and finally drives SMART out of Small-Cap Valley. Sorry, Seagate. The threat is real.

Further Foolishness:

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick and Intel is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here, but maybe he should. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure runs just fine off a 300MB desktop drive, vintage 1997.