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The rise of SSDs over hard drives, debunked

Lucas Mearian | June 24, 2015
In spite of a recent report to the contrary, solid-state drives (SSDs) will not surpass hard disk drives (HDDs) in either price or capacity any time soon, according to industry analysts.

hamr hdd

Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording uses a leser diode on a disk drive's actuator arm to more securely embed bits onto a magnetic platter.  Credit: Seagate

In spite of a recent report to the contrary, solid-state drives (SSDs) will not surpass hard disk drives (HDDs) in either price or capacity any time soon, according to industry analysts.

In fact, hard drives will remain the dominant mass storage device in laptops and desktops for years to come.

For example, a data center-class HDD with 6TB of capacity sells for $185 today and will drop to about $165 by the end of the year -- about .3 cents per gigabyte, according to market research firm Gartner. A 4TB HDD for a laptop sells for $95 to computer manufacturers or about .2 cents per gigabyte.

And HDD prices are expected to continue to drop as areal platter density increases. Gartner predicts that over the next five years, HDD prices will drop to as low as .1 of a cent per gigabyte of capacity.

A variety of technologies are allowing HDD prices to continue their steady decline, including perpendicular magnetic recording that stands data bits in an upright, skinnier orientation and helium-filled drives that reduce friction and allow more platters to be squeezed more tightly together.

HDD technologies such as Bit Patterned Media Recording (BPMR) and Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) will result in up to 10-terabit-per-square-inch (Tbpsi) areal densities by 2025, compared with today's .86 Tbpsi areal densities. Industry roadmaps reveal HDD drives with up to 100TB capacity coming in the next decade.

"SSDs of any grade will still be in the .14 to .17 cent [per gigabyte] range in 2019," said Joseph Unsworth, Gartner's vice president of SSD research, adding that prices for SSDs won't likely match those of HDDs, even by 2025.

As technology allowing more dense NAND flash chips has advanced, SSD prices have plummeted. Today, consumers can pick up SSDs for as little as .38 cents per gigabyte, but that's nowhere near the .9 cents per gigabyte that hard drives generally cost consumers today, according to Gartner.

But price isn't the only consideration when purchasing an SSD. Flash memory is more than twice as fast as spinning disks and it's far more reliable for mobile purposes because there are no moving parts.

If there's one upgrade a consumer can make to a desktop or laptop computer that will make the greatest difference in performance, it's swapping in an SSD.

NAND flash manufacturers such as Samsung, Toshiba, Micron, and Intel, have continued to shrink the lithography technology for making flash transistors. Last fall, at the Flash Memory Summit, Toshiba revealed its smallest lithography process for NAND flash with a 15-nanometer, 16GB MLC NAND wafer. The 15nm wafer was developed in partnership with SanDisk.

 

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