Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) just joined the solid-state drive movement in a big way. After watching other big-name flash memory makers like Samsung, SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK), and Micron (NYSE:MU) release their consumer- and enterprise-level SSDs over the last couple of years, the chip giant could no longer resist the call of this burgeoning market.

At $595 for an 80-gigabyte drive, these devices won't appeal to the mass market quite yet. You can get a full terabyte of disk space for less than $200 from well-respected brands like Seagate (NYSE:STX) and Western Digital (NYSE:WDC), so the solid-state hopefuls need to compete in other ways.

Fortunately, that's not hard to do. An SSD can access data much faster than a traditional spinning magnetic disk ever could, while drawing less power and making no noise at all. Lacking moving parts and being much smaller than the old disks, flash-based drives are ideal for data-hungry handheld gadgets like smartphones and tablet PCs.

On the other end of the spectrum, data center managers love the long mean time between failure and low-power operation. And then there are the niche markets. Motorola (NYSE:MOT) and SeaChange (NASDAQ:SEAC) are selling video-on-demand infrastructure packages built around high-speed solid-state storage, because the instantaneous data-seek operations are a perfect fit for the demands of a very large library of media files that need to be available in the wink of an eye.

I could go on, but the point I'm making is very simple. SSD storage is growing into its breeches very quickly, and Intel wants a piece of that action. With apologies to Samsung and Toshiba, Intel's entry in this sector brings a whole new level of respectability to the whole market, and all of these players will benefit from journalists and IT managers paying closer attention to solid-state moves. Selling more of these items will also help alleviate the long-running oversupply of flash memory chips, stabilizing gadget prices and manufacturer margins.

Welcome to the party, Intel. The other guys missed you.

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