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Notebook hard drives are dead: How SSDs will dominate mobile PC storage by 2018

Mark Hachman | Dec. 4, 2015
Trends in SSD pricing and laptop sales are all pointing in the same direction.

The rapid price declines have their roots in both technical as well as business causes. 

Vendors designing flash memory, the building blocks of SSDs, have been busy developing denser multi-layer cell (MLC) flash. Intel and Micron also hope to increase that density further via 3D NAND flash, which promises yield capacities of 10TB inside a 2.5-inch form factor. 

Competition also plays a role. With really only Western Digital and Seagate competing in the hard drive market, price competition isn’t necessarily as cutthroat as in flash. DRAMeXchange said (as reported by Computerworld) Samsung, Toshiba, SK Hynix, Intel and Micron will maintain their aggressive pricing strategy into the first half of 2016. 

The lowered SSD prices should produce a cascade effect, not only spurring SSD adoption but also influencing the design of PCs. 

Data originally compiled by Computerworld from TrendForce shows that SSDs were used in 21 percent of all notebooks worldwide in 2014. The firm’s forecast calls for that number to rise to 42 percent in 2017. Hard drives, meanwhile, are expected to fall from 79 percent penetration in notebooks during 2014 to 59 percent in 2017. 

In September, Gartner reported that 277 million “traditional” desktops and notebooks (typically using hard drives) were sold in 2014, compared to 263 million ultramobile (clamshell notebooks and tablets) devices, which use SSDs. By 2017, the firm says, that ratio will have flipped: 296 million ultramobile devices compared to 226 million traditional devices.

desktop vs laptops

That, in turn, should influence the design of computers themselves. Apple was one of the first manufacturers to throw its weight behind SSDs with its redesigned 2010 13.3-inch MacBook Air. Since then, similar Windows-based ultrabooks have become more common. IDC also said this week that it expects shipments of 2-in-1 PCs, which dock SSD-powered tablets inside keyboards, to increase 75 percent next year.

If SSDs do become prevalent in the notebook market, expect a growing number of thinner, lighter PCs.

On the desktop, the hard drive isn’t quite dead yet

Desktop users have an entirely different set of requirements. Analysts say that some users will indeed adopt SSDs as boot drives or as devices to quickly launch a few key apps. But consumers will still buy traditional hard drives, especially to store and edit digital video and games. External hard drives connected by high-speed USB 3.0 or USB-C cables will also remain as excellent backups for SSD-powered systems. At some point, it’s possible that mainstream desktops will include a single SSD drive and use external drives or the cloud for backup, but it’s less certain than for the notebook PC.

“You can’t store everything on your [desktop] PC inside flash; it’s simply too expensive,” storage analyst Tom Coughlin of Coughlin Associates said.


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