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(Reuters) – Solid-state drives have struggled to become standard in PCs, but manufacturers could soon follow Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) lead and start using more of them as consumers warm to the benefits of flash storage.

Increasingly used in smartphones, NAND flash storage is expensive but market leaders Samsung Electronics (KS:005930), Toshiba Corp (T:6502), SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) are investing billions of dollars in cutting-edge facilities to boost production.

That will help meet growing demand and make solid-state drives, which are made of NAND flash memory chips instead of mechanical parts, more mainstream by 2012 as prices decline, analysts say.

Still far from replacing traditional hard drives used to store data on computers, game fans and other tech-savvy consumers are increasingly buying off-the-shelf solid-state drives, or SSDs, because they are quicker, more rugged and less prone to fail.

Intel lowered the prices of some of its solid-state drives on Friday ahead of the Christmas shopping season. Its suggested retail price for an 80 gigabyte drive is now $199, down from around $225.

Part of creating a bigger market for SSDs is convincing consumers that a high-performance but low-capacity SSD — enough to store a few dozen movie videos — may be more useful than a traditional hard drive with space for hundreds of movies.

Some of the first netbooks shipped in 2008 included small SSDs but they were mostly discontinued after consumers balked at paying higher prices for less storage than they would have had in traditional hard drives.

But that could change after Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled a new MacBook Air last month that comes with solid-state storage, a major vote of confidence in the technology.

"If the big issue is changing the consumer mind-set, then Steve Jobs has the clout to have initiated that process," said Jim Handy, a semiconductor expert at market research firm Objective Analysis.

Apple is expected to buy a third of all NAND manufactured next year.