What’s Driving Solid-State Drive Adoption?

What’s Driving Solid-State Drive Adoption?

June 30

I’ve spent the last few years working as an employee and now contractor for a custom high-end computer builder in the Seattle area called Puget Systems.  Last year, I finally got around to upgrading my computer’s drive from an older Seagate hard drive to a Samsung 512GB solid-state drive (SSD). My boot times dropped from nearly a minute to under 20 seconds, and it felt as though someone injected my computer with steroids, as every task and program felt faster.  I’m sure many of you will agree that once you have an SSD, you can’t imagine computing without one.

When I joined the company in 2011, Solid State drives were still considered a luxury item for many of our customers. While they offered blazing performance, only a handful of lesser known companies were offering them, and their capacities (typically 60 or 80GB) were tiny compared to mechanical drives.

But what kept most customers from abandoning the mechanical drive for SSDS was the price difference. It wasn’t uncommon for the cost per GB of an SSD to be 10 times that of a mechanical drive. Unless your computer demanded the absolute fastest response times, it was difficult for consumers to justify the much higher costs of the SSD in 2010 when traditional drives still commanded nearly 80% of total drive sales.

In 2011, a number of events took place that provided a boost to SSDs sales, making it more of a mainstream product. Massive floods in Thailand shutdown thousands of plants, including Western Digital, the largest hard drive manufacturer in the world. This brought speculators into the market, purchasing large quantities of drives, hoping to resell them at much higher prices.

While this was happening, companies such as Intel and Samsung released new models of SSDs in larger capacities that performed better and were less expensive than previous models. Depending on the brand and model, SSDs still commanded a cost per GB premium, but that 10 times cost premium had dropped to about 3 to 4 times.

mechanical vs. SSD sales

Over the past year, Puget Systems has seen SSD sales settle in at around 50% of total drive sales. It’s not uncommon for their laptops and general purchase systems to ship with only an SSD, while workstations and servers often ship with an SSD as the boot drive, including one or more higher capacity traditional drives. These larger drivers are normally used for long-term storage.

Another factor in the rise of the SSD is the recent popularity of music and video streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. I used to manage an MP3 collection that required several large drives, but Spotify turned my music collection into a relic. This is just one example of how media ownership is being replaced with various subscription services, reducing the need for large capacity drives.

It will be interesting to see if there’s a limit to SSD adoption, especially in the workstation and server markets. Video professionals are still filming and encoding  4K video streams, and photographers prefer to shoot in RAW. These high fidelity formats produce huge files, which means the need for storage isn’t going away anytime soon.

Lastly, even streaming services still need a place to store all those files that come in hundreds of formats and screen sizes to accommodate the devices people use to consume their movies and music. In a sense, the storage needs of the consumer are transferred to that of the company serving the files. Only time will tell if SSD sales continue to erode traditional drive sales, but I suspect both type of drives will be with us for many more years.

Photo Credit: Machu. via Wikimedia