SSD vs. HDD: How low will hard drives go?

Solid-state drives won't approach magnetic hard-disk drives in pricing anytime soon, if ever. Comparison shopping makes SSDs look like a luxury purchase.

Hard-disk drives are becoming so inexpensive that prices alone--seemingly improbable a couple of years ago--garner headlines. So, how will speedy yet pricey solid-state drives keep up?

Beyond the above-the-fold "2TB for $75" attention-getters , laptop hard disk costs have also been dropping like a rock, pushing mobile hard drives far below solid-state drives. The laptop market is one of the primary markets for flash memory-based SSDs, which are generally faster--in some cases much faster--than HDDs.

Case in point: the Hitachi Travelstar 7K500 HDD. The $64.99 price at Newegg.com not only gets you a 500GB capacity drive in a slim form factor but also one rated at 7200RPM--as fast as a laptop hard drive gets. Other goodies integrated into the drive include a 16MB cache and SATA 3 gigabit per second interface.

Apple still provides a good example of the sticker shock facing buyers who opt for an SSD over an HDD.
Apple still provides a good example of the sticker shock facing buyers who opt for an SSD over an HDD. Apple

Two-figure pricing like that for laptop hard drives makes solid-state drives look like a luxury purchase by comparison. "HDD and NAND (flash memory) cost per gigabyte are destined to remain an order of magnitude apart for the foreseeable future. SSDs will remain from 10 to 20 times as expensive as HDDs of the same capacity," said Jim Handy, principal analyst at Objective Analysis, a firm that does semiconductor-related market research.

Look no further than Apple for the price shock that buyers face when opting for a solid-state drive. In its MacBook Pro line, upgrading from a 320GB HDD to a 256GB SSD adds $650 to the cost of the system. And this has been the status quo for some time.

Prices are a bit lower for retail solid-state drives from top-tier suppliers such as Crucial, an arm of memory chip and SSD manufacturer Micron Technology. At $514.99, Crucial offers a better deal than Apple on a cutting-edge 256GB solid-state drive with a high-speed 6Gbps interface. Still, that doesn't get anywhere close to hard-drive pricing at that capacity. (Note this does not include SSD pricing from second- and third-tier vendors.)

"SSDs will not gain prominence in PCs as long as consumers continue to fixate on price and HDD capacity at the same time," said Handy.

Plummeting hard-drive prices may level off a bit, though, in the wake of the planned acquisition of Hitachi's hard drive unit by Western Digital . "One of the consequences of the WD acquisition of [Hitachi's storage business] will likely be a reduction in the decline of average HDD prices," said Thomas Coughlin of Coughlin Associates, a data storage consulting firm.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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