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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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  • It's going to be really really hard to convince me that Asian electronics manufacturers aren't engaged in price fixing [slashdot.org] 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.

    I mean, really, I feel like a moron for ever knowing that they allowed price fixing -- even promoted it [asiabizblog.com] -- 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 [businessweek.com]? They're obviously very good about it, little chance the regulators in other countries will catch it let alone the easily bribed authorities isntalled there.
    • 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 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Em Emalb (452530)

          The old motto is "Trust but verify".

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

          Works pretty well for me.

        • Heck, Maybe this time fire isn't so hot. OUCH! Yup, still hot, maybe next time it won't be so hot.

          I'm simply amused by people who are eternally optimistic even in the face of all reason.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by pla (258480)
        There's a difference between price collusion in a mature market like LCDs versus a lack of capacity in a new market like SSDs.

        Perhaps you misspoke, perhaps I misunderstood, but doesn't forcing prices down by conspiring to "pull[ed] back on production and investment in new facilities" look very, very similar to merely fixing the prices in a mature market?

        They have the capacity, but would rather make more per unit. So they make fewer units to push the supply/demand curve back into more favorable territo
        • 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 TheKidWho (705796) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:59PM (#31898200)

      Intel's SSDs are made in the USA with Micron....

    • 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]!

    • by poetmatt (793785)

      your view is quote narrow here. How did you not realize they're doing it with non-SSD hard drives as well? They've been almost the same price for more than 2 years. It's 100% price fixing all around. Yes, densities are getting higher, yes its harder to make, but all these things actually drive the cost down. Meanwhile, 2 years ago? $70/TB. Today? $70/TB. That is no accident.

      • by pla (258480)
        How did you not realize they're doing it with non-SSD hard drives as well? They've been almost the same price for more than 2 years. It's 100% price fixing all around.

        I like a good conspiracy as much as the next guy, but I seriously have to wonder if mere (lack of) market pressure has kept HDD prices from falling over the past year or two.

        As you point out, you can get a 1TB drive for $70. A terabyte. At the risk of pulling a "640k", very few typical users would even know how to begin filling 1TB. Yo
        • 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 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).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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
    • 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 @02:20PM (#31899586)

        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.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ZFox (860519)
          Possibly, ya'll are selling to different markets.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Or maybe you're not explaining it right? Impossible to tell, really.
        • 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.

      • by TheKidWho (705796)

        That's not how you're currently supposed to use an SSD for gaming...

        The optimal way is to load the OS onto a small 16-32gb SSD and then keep the games on a hard drive or RAID Array. Keeping the games on an SSD is silly since the only thing it will effect is loading times.

      • You're right, most people have a hard time saturating the CPUs on their new computers. But they have a very easy time saturating a physical hard disk. I think that 90% of the time a person is waiting on a computer to do something, it's because the processor is waiting on IO (either reading from the filesystem or from the page file). Making IO faster is by far the best way to make a PC feel faster and more responsive.

      • by nabsltd (1313397)

        My own Windows 7 PC at home wakes from sleep in about 8 seconds from cold to desktop, how much faster do you want?

        Since waking from sleep doesn't involve the hard drive very much, it's not really a good indicator of hard drive speed. Waking from hibernation, OTOH, uses the hard drive a lot.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by haruchai (17472)

        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, the

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by sunspot55 (305580)

      I work in the semiconductor industry. I don't deal with memory, I deal with ASIC chips but I can absolutely assure you that the current situation in the semiconductor business is exactly as described. Picture this, you are a manager in a semiconductor company approximately one year ago. You are facing an unprecidented once-in-a-lifetime global economic downturn. You can feel it. The press feels it and reports on it non-stop. Nobody knows when the world will pull out of it but it is obvious to everyone

  • 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 MoonBuggy (611105)

      I assume that the cost amortisation of the fab plants comes into it somewhat, and presumably other factors too (not least the 'whatever the market will bear' coefficient).

      Of course, there is a finite manufacturing cost floor and when you hit that you're only going to improve by altering the technology, but I was under the impression that we're still a decent way off from that point.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheKidWho (705796)

        A lot of the cost is the raw cost of the processed silicon wafers. Making the pure crystals and then slicing/cutting/polishing them to a workable state takes a lot of time.

        Where the processing technology comes in is the ability to make more chips for a given wafer size.

    • by timeOday (582209)

      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.

      Really, that's just re-stating the matter. According to Moore's law, the process size decreases like clockwork, like the sun rising in the east every morning, and end-user pricing decreases correspondingly. Well, it turns out the predictive value of a single-parameter model like M

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheKidWho (705796)

        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

        • by timeOday (582209)

          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.

          And yet, if the article is to be believed, that is not the cause of the current stagnation in SSD pricing - rather, it's market dynamics. Of course physical limits exist, one might even suspect them of dooming SSD's to forever lag hard drives in capacity, but the article says on the contrary recent pricing is just due to market dynamics.

          Moore's law states nothing o

    • by Bengie (1121981)

      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.

      I agree with this. Most of the price drops for SSDs was Flash memory suddenly going from 50 to 40 to 30nm as they quickly caught up with chip sizes. Now that SSDs are caught up with current fabrication processes, the prices will stagnate until a new better fabrication comes out.

      There will obviously be price drops as the cost of initial investments are covered and when a slightly newer more competitive model comes out and they need to clear old-stock. But overall, they're like CPUs now. Expensive when they f

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:48PM (#31897990)

    fabricators pulled back on production and investment in new facilities

    Joseph Smith once said that a man with one wife was blessed, but a man with more than one was cursed. I guess he meant that as the supply goes down, the more profit can be realized per unit.

  • Give it time.. the $/GB price will go down.. SSDs are only a few years old and they are still working on achieving density comparable to spinning-disks, instead of focusing on cost reduction.

    If you're in a tizzy because SSDs are expensive, then continue to use tried-and-true conventional disk until they meet your price point.

    I'm sure there are other considerations.. prob some monopoly on NAND manufacturing or something.. but that'll eventually sort itself out and cost will go down. Not like you can open a

    • I'm sure there are other considerations.. prob some monopoly on NAND manufacturing or something.. but that'll eventually sort itself out

      Monopolies tend to take 20 years to sort themselves out.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      and that is not expected to change until 2011.

      But 2011 is so far away! OMG!

      Maybe I'm getting old, but 2011 doesn't seem like an inordinate amount of time to wait. It's roughly 8-20 months to wait. While it's not going to enthuse those looking to upgrade this year, it's not like the world will end if SSDs don't take off in a month.

  • 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.
    • by rm999 (775449)

      I think how long it will take is a valid question; the impact on the industry will be *huge* when these things become mainstream.

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        > 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.


    • Larger LCDs are finally affordable now, and how many years did that take

      The problem with that is that they cut out more than a few pixels and certainly a lot of of the quality in the panels.

    • Well, the LCD screens really dropped in price, right after a bunch of manufacturers were busted for Price Fixing their products. So I'm thinking you're not too far off...

  • 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 b0bby (201198)

      But flash in general seems to be holding steady, or even going up a bit. The same 16bg SDHC card I bought a year ago from Newegg for $30 is right now around $34. That could be explained by a combination of reduced capacity & larger SSDs taking up more of the reduced production.

  • Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HFXPro (581079)
      A 5.25" drive would have significantly higher stresses placed upon the platter. There would also be more area to have to physically move the head across.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by powerlord (28156)

      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 putti

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheKidWho (705796)

      When you have something spinning, the smaller the better.

      Let's do some simple Math:

      For a 7200RPM Hard Drive@ 3.5" Diameter or .0889 meters you have a velocity of
      V = Pi*D*RPM = 3.14*.0889*7200 = 2009m/min or 33.5m/s.
      Now the centripetal acceleration:
      a = v^2/r = (33.5m/s)^2/.04445m = 25243m/s^2.

      Or in other words: 2573g

      Yeah, that's a hell of a lot of acceleration at the outer edges. The smaller the better.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Larger platters means more centrifugal force. Too much force and the magnetic emulsion starts to come off the platters, so you either need to find a better way to make the emulsion stick (which does not appear forthcoming. They have to shrink the platters for higher speed 10k and 15k drives) or run the drive slower, which will clobber performance.

    • my guess is that several issues scale exponentially with diameter:
      - spin up torque and strain on the motor
      - precision required for heads placement
      - vibrations
      - vertical tolerances (head positionning, platter warp...)
      Solving those is probably too complicated and expensive to make sense when most people aren't even buying today's top-ine 3.5", 2TB drives.

      Internal raid and platter mirroring doesn't make much sense either: eveything remains dependent on a single motor and head mechanism: waht's left must not be

    • by juuri (7678)

      I like your thinking, just how much data could we cram in one of those old full height scsi drive bays!

    • by cpghost (719344)
      Not just HDDs got smaller and acquired higher capacity and reliability. FDDs also went from 8" to 5 1/4" to 3 1/2"... until they were all but replaced by solid state devices (USB drives), of much higher capacity and reliability. However, some old computer tech is superior to what we have today for some particular applications: think computers used in space travel (satellites): the less densely packed and the slower the electronics are, the less vulnerable they are to cosmic rays and other interferences. Sam
  • 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?

    • by daveime (1253762)

      Bearing in mind that perhaps 2 years ago, a 256MB USB Keydisk cost me $10, and today, I can get a 16GB for the same price, yes, I'd say it's just a matter of time.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Yeah... but that 16GB USB drive still doesn't have enough room for a single HD movie on it.

        Meanwhile, I can get 2TB 3.5" spinny disks and a 250GB 2.5" spinny disk is $60.

        It will still be a bit before I can cheaply turn my EEE PC 900 into an Archos 5 knockoff.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          I have 3 HD movies on a 16 gig thumb drive here. They all look fantastic on a 42" set. Mpeg4 compression done the right way from a clean source works GREAT. Oh and I downconverted the audio to 5.1 AC3 audio... I have yet to find a person that can hear and see the difference from the original and the ripped version. Quantum of Solace, Transformers and Watchmen are what I used for testing ripped directly from bluray discs.

          • by eharvill (991859)
            OT, but what software do you recommend for ripping your Blu-Rays? I just recently made the upgrade to BD and want to start filling up my NAS. A 4 year old and CD/DVD/BD are not a good combo.
    • by nschubach (922175)

      Agree, but for no more reason that you state. Eventually we won't be able to tweak bits on a metal platter easier than on silicon, nano-tubes or whatever else seems to be coming down the line. I think it's more a lack of patience that this story was posted.

    • To put it simply, never is a long time. Saying "never" in regards to technology is always a stupid thing to do.
    • I neither agree or disagree.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tridus (79566)

      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 thijsh (910751)
      I respectfully disagree, even though your theory is sound. You fail to account for the likely possibility that before we reach the point where SSD is cheaper than HDD in practice we will have moved on to the next breakthrough technology (holographic, or even molecular or genetic storage). Especially when new breakthroughs like optical and quantum computing change the computing world both SSD and HDD will become obsolete around the same time.
    • 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.
      • 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.

      • Re:Gartner is wrong (Score:4, Interesting)

        by petermgreen (876956) <plugwashNO@SPAMp10link.net> on Monday April 19, 2010 @03:05PM (#31900360) Homepage

        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
        Sort of

        You can get a USB stick for that price but USB sticks are notdesigned to be mounted in a PC case (you could probablly tie one in and link it to an internal port somehow but I would consider it a bodge), usually not optimised for speed or high write cycle use and the USB interface and the fact they show up as removable drives will cause complications with using them as a boot drive (especially if you are a windows user).

        Compactflash cards can also be got in that price range but you need an adaptor to connect them up and mount them and then since those adaptors are usually designed for laptop or small form factor use you will probablly need an adaptor to mount the adaptor driving up the overall cost. Once again they also don't tend to be optimised for speed and high write cycle use like proper SSDs.

        Proper SSDs with SATA interfaces and a standard drive form factor seem to start at arround $90 (slightly less if you count after rebate prices) for 30GB (there are 16GB ones on the market but they cost MORE than the 32GB ones) . Further the form factor is a laptop one meaning you may also need to buy an adaptor plate (some but not all SSDs come with this in the box afaict) which costs another $15.

        You also talk about the "boot volume" as if it's a dedicated drive. There are probablly some enterprise conditions where that is the case but afaict for most desktops the same drive serves as boot drive and data drive. Granted some people don't have much data though.

      • 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.

        But what will the price difference be per cub centimeter? As chips (eventually) transition to stacked designs, I'd be willing to bet that you can stack a lot more layers of silicon per unit height than you can spinning platters that allow enough room for air flow, head thickness, etc.

        • That was supposed to be cubic. You get the idea. :-)
        • Again, it depends on exactly what you want: If you are significantly space constrained, SSDs may well be your only option(HDDs are either simply impossible, or you would need an ultra-thin variant custom designed and produced just for you, which, with lousy economies of scale, could mean paying hundreds or thousands of dollars per unit).

          However, if you are not significantly space constrained, die stacking doesn't do much to change the cost of SSDs(packaging costs go up; because the die bonding gets hard
    • by imsabbel (611519)

      Gartner is most likely right.

      Your main error is that you assume flash is simpler than HDs. The opposite is true. You cannot even imagine how complicated 32nm semiconductor fabrication is. And every step down will be worse. If it were easy, it wouldnt cost billions to get a manufacturing plant up. And they would not need Phds for process control.

      Storage cells on a HD surface are not that much bigger than flash bits on a chip. Maybe an order of magnitude. On the other hand, flash requires a HUGE amoun

  • April 19, 2011 - PC World Magazine

    The Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation of price fixing among manufacturers of solid-state drives. A spokesman for the FTC says that the top hard drive manufactures "have colluded to keep the prices of SSD drives artificially high." A representative from Western Digital has stated that his company takes the charges seriously and that it will fully cooperate with the investigation.

  • by odin84gk (1162545) on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:09PM (#31898386)

    Thanks to everyone shutting down factories during the recession, there is a severe shortage of analog parts, electrolytic capacitors, and some FET's. It is typical to see a 4-8 week lead time on an order of 20k. A 16 week lead time makes you Very uncomfortable and you start looking for second sources or redesigns.

    Some analog/digital companies are shipping at 16-24 week lead times.
    Some electrolytic capacitors are at a 40 week lead time.
    And at least one major company stopped accepting new orders.
    In the mean time, some distributors are starting bidding wars on parts that they do have.

    Right now, demand is far greater than the supply. It is going to be at least another year before prices start to come down.

    • It does seem that the price of magnetic drives has been on a plateau for a while too.
  • 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 macraig (621737) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @01:36PM (#31898914)

    It's bubblegum feature creep, the same tactic Microsoft used for years to justify prices for Windows. In the case of LCD TVs, they're using extra "Hertz" and LED backlighting (never mind the misleading marketing leads some people to mistakenly believe that the display itself is actually LEDs) to keep the prices artificially high. It's these industries' version of the fast food industry's coke-and-fries tactic: upsell the product with low-cost features or add-ons that add almost nothing to cost but add a mountain to profits. In the case of magnetic-media disk drives, they're adding more cache and tweaking this or that, which ultimately changes the total cost of production very little but helps the manufacturers stave off the price drops that SHOULD occur due to savings from mass production. In the case of SSDs, I duuno what the specific feature creep is, but you can bet that is what's taking place.

    This is what manufacturers do to keep the full benefits of mass production from actually "trickling down" to consumers.

  • 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.

  • Using a mix of flash and spinning disk technology you could build a single hybrid drive that supports fast operation by optimizing what uses flash and what uses the older tech; this would increase the perceived speed of a machine while keeping costs lower. The OS would need to support such a drive; but it would result in faster machines with reasonably large storage capacities at a lower price point. It's not really a new idea, variations of the solid state / hard drive memory mix use have been around a w

  • There's no reason for prices to go down on SSDs. Economic downturn? Not for flash chips, not when there are basically only two vendors making them, not when demand is high, and not when mass production has a low barrier to entry and is already extremely cheap... just plop a bunch of chips on a circuit board and you are done. That is what a SSD is.

    -Matt

  • Between 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 there was a rally to the dollar. When compared to other currencies in the world, it went from 72 to 88 in the dolar index [ino.com]. This caused everything to drop in price in dollars. Since then, the US dollar has fallen sharply, fast enough to prevent improved technology from lowering costs. It has rebounded a little this year, but not because the dollar gained anything, but because the euro fell sharply.

    But lets price it in something less erratic than the US dollar, eu

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