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Data Storage The Almighty Buck

Why Aren't SSD Prices Going Down? 249

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the more-is-more dept.
Lucas123 writes "NAND flash memory makers took an economic beating from 2007 through the first quarter of 2009 due to supply outstripping demand. During that time, solid state drives dropped in price 60% year over year. But after the economic meltdown, fabricators pulled back on production and investment in new facilities and the price of SSDs have remained flat or increased over the past year, and that is not expected to change until 2011. Until that time, SSDs remain 10x more expensive than hard disk drives. SSD vendors, however, are using a few tricks to get sales up, including selling lower-capacity boot drives that hit a sweet spot in the techie/gamer market."
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Why Aren't SSD Prices Going Down?

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  • Because... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:47PM (#31897976)

    SSD cost is limited by the cost to refine and turn Silicon into Flash Memory.

    The price will only go down as the process size goes down, currently at 32nm with Intel's Latest drives. Once it reaches 8nm or the like then the cost will truly be comparable to Hard Drives. Until then, don't expect a miracle.

  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:58PM (#31898176) Journal

    It's going to be really really hard to convince me that Asian electronics manufacturers aren't engaged in price fixing en masse against the rest of the world whenever a technology cost remains unnaturally high. Hell, after realizing how many times I was the victim of it with LCDs I pretty much expect it.

    The /. title is "Why Aren't SSD Prices Going Down?" and the summary quickly provides and answer with "But after the economic meltdown, fabricators pulled back on production and investment in new facilities".

    There's a difference between price collusion in a mature market like LCDs versus a lack of capacity in a new market like SSDs.

    But congrats on your semi-paranoid stance.
    Why look at facts when you can just say "I'll never trust again".

  • by mr_flea (776124) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:58PM (#31898180)
    They'll go down eventually if you give it time. SSDs are now just getting popular. Larger LCDs are finally affordable now, and how many years did that take? They just need more time to get the manufacturing procedure and the like down. I'm sure advances in SSD manufacturing will bring them down in price eventually. Just be patient.
  • They have... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MistrBlank (1183469) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:02PM (#31898246)

    The same 60GB drive I paid $230 for 6 months ago is now $130 after rebates and $160 before.

  • by feepness (543479) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:03PM (#31898272) Homepage

    I mean, really, I feel like a moron for ever knowing that they allowed price fixing -- even promoted it -- inside their borders and then believing that stopped at the rim of the continent. Right now the only question is how many markets is this happening in?

    Yeah! We need them to stop artificially raising prices through fixing so we can artificially raise them through tariffs [nytimes.com]!

  • Gartner is wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wonkavader (605434) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:04PM (#31898282)

    OK, I think this bit from Gartner

    Garnter analyst Joseph Unsworth [says] "...The point here is SSDs will never, ever be able to match hard disk drives on price per gigabyte."

    is wrong. Flash is simpler than drives. The manufacturing requires less machining, materials, and human labor. I'm not saying next year or even five years out, but as SOME POINT, I am sure that memory devices like flash will be cheaper than disk drives on a per bit basis, or at least close enough that innovation on spinning drives will stop and that will allow flash/memory devices to pass them.

    Anyone agree/disagree?

  • Two things. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:09PM (#31898388) Journal
    While the question of whether prices aren't being competed further down because of collusion, or just because of inescapable production costs is an interesting one(and hopefully somebody has their forensic accountants on it, just to be sure), it seems reasonably obvious why SSDs have settled into the niche that they have, and why the manufacturers are making the size/price decisions that they are.

    Now that the initial round of epically bad JMicron controllers are mostly gone, and the boring Samsung reference ones are confined mostly to build-to-order options on corporate laptops, all but the ghastliest SSDs are embarrassingly superior to HDDs for the sort of random mixed read/write that makes such a difference for desktop responsiveness. At the same time, though, nothing short of alien nanotech is going to allow them to touch HDDs in price/GB. That being so, you would expect to see SSD capacities largely cluster around "enough for a Windows boot volume, with a few key applications on it; but not much more". Anything less is largely useless to the target market(or, more accurately, anything less is aimed at the embedded devices market, and probably uses entirely different connectors and isn't sold at retail) and anything more gets very expensive very fast. This is, also, the reason why a lot of the high capacity (512GB to 1TB+) SSDs that you see are actually 2 or 4 of the vendor's lower capacity boards stuck together behind a cheap RAID chip. The market for the super high capacity ones just isn't all that big, at least among systems that use SATA as a storage connection bus, so the high capacity drives being sold are practically low-volume engineering samples, just polished enough to be sold for the usual early-adopter premium.

    The only real forces supporting the existence of SSDs larger than that are high-end laptops(if you only have one drive slot, you can't adopt the mixed SSD/HDD strategy), a few loony enthusiasts(if you are the sort of person who buys every highest-end video card on release day, you can probably be convinced to go for a couple of 512GB SSDs, in RAID of course, for your gaming machine) and some truly titanic databases run by the deep-pocketed(though it isn't clear how much of that is SATA connected, and how much is the directly PCIe attached stuff, which is even faster).
  • Echon 101. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:11PM (#31898434)

    If supply goes up and demand stays the same prices will go down. If demand goes up and supply stays the same prices will rise. What happened was the economy dropped so they lowered their supply otherwise what could happen is the Supply/Demand curve would fall under making profit. Now as we recover demand is rising again but they are unsure about the longterm projections so they are keeping supply still low for a while.

    This isn't necessarily greed unless they are bean counters. Sure you may make more per unit but if you sell more units for less then you can make more money.

  • by d'fim (132296) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:12PM (#31898452)

    Why look at facts when you can just say "I'll never trust again".

    Why not both?
    Historical facts tend to be more accurate than "gee I hope so" facts.
    The past can be a useful tool, because that's where all of the experience is.

  • The old motto is "Trust but verify".

    I use "Don't trust, verify, then trust."

    Works pretty well for me.

  • Re:Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by powerlord (28156) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:17PM (#31898536) Journal

    I know this topic is about SSDs, but I remember back in the day we had full height 5.25" drives that sounded like jet engines and had several platters. Why hasn't anyone made bigger platters- are we really constrained to the 3.5" form factor? I'd think they could make big platters with some extra ECC, have several platters, or even have internal platter mirroring or something l like hardware raid6 at the platter level?

    Putting RAID inside the drive doesn't buy as much (from a Redundancy perspective) as putting multiple drives into the same space does.

    With multiple drives you can:
    - use different manufacturers
    - replace each independently

    With RAID in a drive, you are probably using the same circuitry for those whole enclosure (comparable to the Disk Controller now), and you do not have the option of replacing a failed platter (without a new HDD architecture of some sort).

    Add to that the limited number of environments willing to spend the extra money on RAID, and the non-techie obsession with "smaller is better tech" being seen in NetBooks, and NetTops, leaving less room for this sort of thing, and you're left with a limited market that could alternatively be served by existing RAID controllers/setups, using "standardized" components (3.5" drives), that can be mass produced due to the large demand for them in non-RAID applications.

  • by Tridus (79566) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:22PM (#31898636) Homepage

    Wouldn't it be more newsworthy if Gartner was right?

    They're generally the most reliable source: bet on the opposite of whatever Gartner is saying.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:25PM (#31898688) Homepage

    > Part of the problem is that unlike LCDs, SSDs are hidden from view. Average Joe doesn't demand it because he doesn't know the impact it will have on him.

    Another part of the problem is the fact that Average Joe won't notice and won't care.

  • by Smauler (915644) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:39PM (#31898974)

    Or it could be that _everyone_ wants solid state devices now, and they're difficult to manufacture en mass quickly? There's no need for a global conspiracy theory here, it's just boring old supply and demand.

    Note that supply and demand looks a lot like collusion in many cases - When the demand rises, all suppliers automatically will increase prices at about the same time to reflect the market. The best answer is to wait until the product gets cheap, which _will_ happen soon(ish).

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:40PM (#31898980) Journal
    Whether he is right or wrong really depends on how large a disk you want.

    Barring truly revolutionary advances in silicon device fabrication, and(I'm not sufficiently up on my physics to know for sure) possibly a change in physics, sputtering a thin metallic film with the appropriate magnetic properties will always be cheaper, per square centimeter, than fabbing a complex integrated circuit. Further, it is quite likely that the smallest possible magnetic domains will continue to be smaller than the smallest possible flash cells, so you get more bits per square centimeter, and you pay less per square centimeter with the magnetic stuff.

    However, as you note, Flash is pretty much ready-to-go. Virtually all the cost is the silicon. Packaging and soldering are relatively cheap(and, since every HDD also has a controller board, both technologies pay the "assemble a PCB" cost). With magnetic storage, though, whether HDD or tape, you have to build a fairly complex and expensive machine to enclose the cheap magnetic medium, and read/write, and keep dust off, and so forth.

    If you adopt the naive strategy of comparing each technology's "sweet spot cost"(ie. the cost/GB of the device with the lowest cost/GB of each tech), I suspect that Mr. Unsworth is correct, if not forever, at least for a long time. However, a great many applications don't actually care about that metric. If you know how many GB you need, you don't care about "what is the lowest cost/GB?" you care about "how can I most cheaply get X GB?"

    In the case of HDDs, the "sweet spot price" is somewhere between 5 and 10 cents a GB. However, the sweet spot is measured in 1-2 TB devices. If you, say, only needed 20GB, you would be unable to find anybody to sell you a 20GB drive for $1-$2. A quick look a newegg suggests that the cheapest retail HDDs are around $30-$35. You do get 80GB to 160GB for your $35; but you basically can't spend any less. The cost of a machined housing, hiqh quality spindle motor, packing, shipping, etc. just make that impossible. For the same $30-$35, retail, you are looking at around 16GB of flash(less if you want AES encryption and stuff, a little more if it is on sale). Thus, for any application that needs 16GB or less, SSDs are, in absolute $/GB terms, actually cheaper than HDDs(in addition to their other virtues: quiet, low power, shock resistant, small size, etc.)

    I suspect that, over time, HDDs will be cheaper than SSDs in "sweet spot price" more or less forever; but the capacity(currently around 16GB, was more like 8GB the last time I wrote something like this) below which the absolute cost advantage lies with SSDs will continue to creep up. If it manages to creep up faster than software bloats, we may reach the dramatic tipping point where an SSD is cheaper, as well as better, than an HDD for the boot volume of a "normal computer", as opposed to just embedded systems, the occasional netbook, and space/power constrained devices.
  • Re:Because... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:43PM (#31899038)

    even if there's no underlying physical barrier in the way (as we saw when clock speeds topped out).

    Hrmm? There is indeed an underlying physical barrier, you know, the size of the atoms that make up the darn things. It can only get so small.

    Moore's law has held up for the past few decades because we've been picking the low hanging fruit, it's going to be really hard to shrink the process size in the near future. Besides the fact that Moore's law states nothing on the processing technology and only on the fact that feature(transistor) count will double every 2 years.

  • by melted (227442) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:46PM (#31899108) Homepage

    Someone is buying massive quantities of them. That's the only explanation. The enterprise is only now catching up to the benefits of low latency SSD access. You can use fewer servers and serve data with much better latency and throughput for IO bound tasks. Anyone who needs low latency random access to data (ads, search, data warehousing, OLAP, content distribution networks, hotspots in map data serving, etc, etc) are switching to SSDs right now as quickly as their budget allows.

  • While I'm sure the geek here at /. will probably have their jaws drop at me saying this, I think there is an even simpler explanation, although price fixing may be adding to the equation. The simple reason is this....most folks don't want them, period.

    While the geeks and gamers are probably having heart attacks at saying this, the simple fact is most PCs have gone waaaaay past good enough several years back, and for most have reached ludicrous speed. I offer SSDs as an option on my new builds, and even after explaining the speed benefits don't have any takers, why? Because folks want bigger more than they want faster, that's why. And frankly with 2 Windows 7 PCs sitting here the difference in wake from sleep between SSD and HDDs isn't enough to worry about. My own Windows 7 PC at home wakes from sleep in about 8 seconds from cold to desktop, how much faster do you want?

    So I would say it is simply the fact that machines are crazy fast now, and with adequate RAM there simply isn't a need for SSDs unless your a gamer wanting the biggest ePeen. The smallest build I sell ATM is an AMD dual with 3Gb of RAM and Windows 7, and my customers just rave about how fast it is. For the same price as a 32Gb SSD they can get over a Tb of HDD space, and my customers would simply rather have bigger than faster. Plus with Windows 7 all you need is a fast 4-8Gb flash drive for Readyboost and you gain a lot of the SSD speed benefits without the SSD prices, at least in my experience. With games easily coming in at 5-7Gb a piece installed you really need at least 64Gb to see the benefits of SSD anyway.

    So I'd say the simple fact is SSD simply isn't needed on the desktop. Mobile is another story, with the non volatile nature of SSDs making them a good choice, but since most of my customers are simply doing the basics on their laptops (word processing, surfing) they really don't need anything bigger than the basic bottom of the line SSDs, which means there isn't the demand driving prices down. Even my hardcore gamer customer decided to go RAID 0 with a couple of Raptors rather than give up space for an SSD. Most folks would just rather have more than faster at this point IMHO.

  • by Killall -9 Bash (622952) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:15PM (#31899516)
    More like everyone wants a 2nd gen SSD, and distributors and retailers want to unload their stock of garbage-ass 1st gen drives. I know what MSRP is on some of these drives, and I can only come to the conclusion that retailers are trying to get consumers to pay for 1st gen shit that will never, EVER sell. Not me. I already paid the early adopter tax ($400 for 16GB), and got burned (drive controller chip has no cache, causing stuttering). A lot of people paid the early adopter tax, and got fucking burned. I'll be waiting for 2nd(or higher) gen drives with 80+GB for $100.
  • by ZFox (860519) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:35PM (#31899826)
    Possibly, ya'll are selling to different markets.
  • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Monday April 19, 2010 @02:56PM (#31900152)

    Barring truly revolutionary advances in silicon device fabrication, and(I'm not sufficiently up on my physics to know for sure) possibly a change in physics, sputtering a thin metallic film with the appropriate magnetic properties will always be cheaper, per square centimeter, than fabbing a complex integrated circuit. Further, it is quite likely that the smallest possible magnetic domains will continue to be smaller than the smallest possible flash cells, so you get more bits per square centimeter, and you pay less per square centimeter with the magnetic stuff.

    Apparently sputtering of magnetic films is in fact approaching a limit. As the bit density increases, the magnetic domains in the film need to keep getting smaller. The smaller domains become more and more susceptible to being randomly flipped (thermally or due to interactions between neighboring magnetic domains). Currently the envisioned solution is to create small isolated magnetic domains: basically magnetic nano-islands on a non-magnetic platter. This presents a whole bunch of new problems (e.g. getting the read/write head to repeatably track to such small locations).

    But this proposed 'bit patterned magnetic media' obviously increases the cost of HDD fabrication since you're no longer just sputtering a magnetic film; you have to pattern the disk platter (albeit with a relatively simple pattern compared to a microchip or even flash storage).

    This barrier is "close enough" that HDD companies are seriously researching how to make bit-patterned drives. (Hitachi is the company that I know for sure is working on it; no doubt others are, too.) Of course it's always possible that someone makes a discovery in magnetic thin films that lets us keep using simple layers for hard drives platters... (It's always difficult to predict such things!) ... but currently it looks like hard drives are going to become patterned in the future.

    If this happens, then it will close the gap, in a sense. With hard disks giving up one of their manufacturing advantages in order to push to greater bit densities, SSD will probably catch up and overtake.

  • by dekemoose (699264) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:04PM (#31900344)

    Decreasing production in response to decreased demand is a fairly typical business practice, it's just good operations. Likewise, most organizations are going to decline to make major investments on new operational capacity during a down economy (there is a school of thought that says that's the exact right thing to do, taking advantage of lower costs during a recession and preparing yourself for the upshot out of recession but we'll leave that argument for another time). This is not collusion it's intelligent business operations. I know that we as consumers would like all businesses to spew out as much product as they can at the lowest price possible and margins be damned but that simply isn't realistic to always expect in all circumstances. It's a luxury that the tech consumers have largely enjoyed but that doesn't mean that it has to be that way.

    Now, if all the makers of SSDs established an agreement between themselves that they would constrain production to a certain level (and I'm not saying this isn't happening) then it's collusion. There's a decent chance it's happening here, just don't automatically equate a business trying to maintain a decent margin on a product to unfair business tactics.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:23PM (#31900678) Journal
    I'll never understand why people want tinfoil hats. They're just perfect parabolic reflectors for the underground mind ray transmitters. Think about it: where are government strongholds? Underground.
  • by haruchai (17472) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:29PM (#31900784)

    Yeah, right. It's my non-techie friends who are most impressed by SSDs, mostly because it comes close to the instant-on
    that they get from their other electronic devices ( the Blackberry being a notable exception ).
    Also, the resistance to shock ( more important in mobiles, true ) is also a wow-factor - most of my friends have kids
    and accidents happen.

    Your customers are raving about that build of yours because they've been stuck with Windows XP for years and, if they've
    not upgraded their machine recently, they probably have a 512 or 1GB box with a dying disk.

    You can argue that something may not be needed, and you might be right for a large number of people if you build it
    and make it affordable, they will come and find a use for it.
    I've heard the "that ain't needed" argument about every piece of tech since 1970 and someone probably said the same thing
    about fire and the wheel.

    Here's how I see it - faster random access leads to better multitasking which leads to greater productivity.
    Also, the best way to speed up a system is to significantly enhance the slowest of the heavily used components / interfaces.
    The SSD represent the most significant narrowing of the gap between CPU / Memory / Storage performance in 2 decades.
    I say it's way overdue and the pricing on end-user drives can't get to $1/GB fast enough to please me.

    And, RAID 0? Sounds good in principle but I wouldn't trust this anymore on my boot drive. After several months of flawless performance on Nvidia FakeRAID, the boot partition up and disappeared without any warnings.
    It worked one morning and didn't that evening.
    And before you start telling me about getting a real RAID controller, all the ones that have been recommended have been so expensive, I'd be better off spending it on an SSD.

  • so seeing the prices go up as the manufacturers deliberately cut capacity... that I'll call unkosher.
    Not nessacerally when you consider delayed reactions.

    Consider each company in the market for widget X (lets assume for the moment that different brands of widget X are interchangable) has a minimum price at which they consider it worthwhile to make widget X. Each customer also has a maximum price they will pay for widget X. This gives us graphs of production VS cost and demand VS cost. Where these graphs cross is the natural price of the product.

    However it takes time to react to things. When demand at a given price point drops there are still half-made products, products sitting in warehouses and so on that the manufacturers want to shift. So it takes time for production to adjust downwards. It also takes time for production to adjust upwards when the market price rises. In other words the rate of production is a function not just a function of the current price but also a function of previous prices.

    Overshoot is hardly surprising in such a system.

  • by kaputtfurleben (818568) on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:52PM (#31901182)
    Or maybe you're not explaining it right? Impossible to tell, really.
  • by omglolbah (731566) on Monday April 19, 2010 @04:31PM (#31901700)

    It is really easy to save money in a factory by shutting it down. On the short term you get incredible profit...
    Then you run out of stock and catch fire *snickers*

    Unfortunately few were willing to go on producing goods during the recession and are now severely fucked when it comes to supply... Funny how that happens every time the market takes a dip... You would think someone would learn :(

  • by bertok (226922) on Monday April 19, 2010 @06:07PM (#31903030)

    I offer SSDs as an option on my new builds, and even after explaining the speed benefits don't have any takers, why? Because folks want bigger more than they want faster, that's why.

    I do the same, and 90% of the time, they want SSD. You're not explaining it right.

    Some people sell it as an "either" option: You can either have the speed or the capacity, choose one.

    The solution is to simply sell both. An SSD for boot, apps, and speed sensitive data (think Outlook PSTs), and a huge spinning disk for everything else.

All this wheeling and dealing around, why, it isn't for money, it's for fun. Money's just the way we keep score. -- Henry Tyroon

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