Intel is to launch new range of solid-state drives (SSDs) for laptops, featuring a storage capacity up to 160GB.

A spokesman said the chip-maker will introduce 1.5-inch and 2.5-inch solid state drives offering between 80GB and 160GB diskless storage during the second quarter of 2008. No further details were available.

Intel demonstrated the high-performance SSD prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. At the time, an Intel spokesman said the manufacturer had not decided whether to sell the drives directly to retailers or through laptop and PC makers.

That spokesman also said the solid-state technology would be shown off again in April at the Intel Developer Forum, where some observers say it may be officially released.

Intel already offers ultra-small low-power solid-state storage for mobile devices. These include the 2GB Z-P140 PATA and the 4GB Z-U130 USB offerings. The company has made no secret of its desire to significantly broaden its solid-state portfolio, while boosting Flash performance for customers.

Last month IM Flash Technologies, a joint venture of Intel and Micron Technology, unveiled a new high-speed NAND flash memory technology it said offers data transfer speeds five times faster than conventional NAND technology.

An aggressive move into the laptop and PC notebook flash disk drive business would catapult Intel into direct competition with hard-drive manufacturers such as Toshiba and Samsung who are trying to spark demand before their SATA-based offerings are released in the coming months.

Samsung said it will ship a 2.5-inch 128 SSD in the second quarter, while Toshiba has announced plans to produce SSDs ranging in capacity from 32GB to 128GB for notebook PCs by May.

Although analysts do expect that corporations will begin to seriously consider the benefits of SSDs during 2008, the high price tag for the technology may keep sales in check for a few years.