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China Data Storage Earth Hardware

Rare Earth Restrictions To Raise Hard Drive Cost 254

Posted by timothy
from the economics-have-consequences dept.
MojoKid writes "Multiple manufacturers in the IT industry have been keeping a wary eye on China's decision to cut back on rare earth exports and the impact it may have on component prices. There have been reports that suggest we'll see that decision hit the hard drive industry this year, with HDD prices trending upwards an estimated 5-10 percent depending on capacity. Although rare earth magnets are only a small part of a hard drive's total cost, China cut exports last year by 40 percent, which drove pricing for these particular components up an estimated 20-30x. China currently controls 97 percent of the rare earth elements market for popular metals like neodymium, cerium, yttrium and ytterbium."
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Rare Earth Restrictions To Raise Hard Drive Cost

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  • by suso (153703) * on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:00PM (#37149098) Homepage Journal

    that this article doesn't touch on at all is does this affect Solid State Drives (SSDs)? Probably not because they don't use magnets. So this will just speed up the jump to SSDs. You could be the cynic and think that somehow China decided to raise rare earth prices to drive SSDs, but I kinda doubt that Hard drives in general make up a significant part of that decision.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Small fast SSDs complement, but don't replace large slow HDDs.

    • by Nimey (114278) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:09PM (#37149558) Homepage Journal

      5-10% isn't that much. Spinning discs will still be a lot cheaper than even the cheapest SSDs.

      • by geekmux (1040042)

        5-10% isn't that much. Spinning discs will still be a lot cheaper than even the cheapest SSDs.

        Yeah, and 4 megabytes of RAM used to cost over $100.

        Point is SSDs are still the "blu-ray" of hard drives out there, commanding their own fancy premium. Once they're pretty much commonplace, they'll be on par with traditional spinning platters (especially considering this article pointing out an increase in costs for traditional designs)

      • Let's not forget densities are bound to double sometime soon. We've been on 2-3 TB drives for 2 years now, with manufacturers holding back on releasing the latest platter density advances into the market. Once the new tech comes out $/GB (should we use TB now?) will come down significantly, even with a 5-10% premium.
        • by Nimey (114278)

          I expect they're also waiting for UEFI to achieve more market penetration, since plain old BIOSes are limited to 2TB drives on account of the old Master Boot Record's limitations. The 3TB drives are the first iteration to need UEFI and as such are useful for probing what the market will do.

          • I still do not get why current BIOSes cannot be made compatible with larger drives.

            Now, granted, the MBR has the 2TB limit, but BIOS does not require that MBR. What I mean is, bios just loads the first (zeroth?) sector of the hard drive to memory and jumps to that location in memory. It does not care what is in it. From then the CPU executes whatever instructions were in that first sector.

            Also, while boot code and the partition table are currently on the same sector, there is no particular need why they hav

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sonicmerlin (1505111)
      There will be no jump to SSDs. The price of entry into the market is too high ($25 billion for a new fabrication plant), and supply is constantly being outstripped by growing demand. Cost of production is also not falling fast enough. The industry expects to transition to a new and more efficient technology by 2014 or 2015, whatever that may be.
    • by Gerzel (240421)

      Also it might make research in recycling old hard drives more of an option. The rare earth are probably mostly in the magnetic heads. I dunno about the platters.

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      This is as marvelous as their other bone headed move with Taiwan. It will spur the development of MRAM and other technologies for SSDs. It will spur manufacturing to move to one of several hundred countries that are not psychically traumatized by a small island that sneered at them and went independent.

      Even Britain didn't go that loony over America they went loony over .. I'm not sure what.

    • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Saturday August 20, 2011 @03:07AM (#37151418) Journal

      The problem with SSDs are the failure rates on those are frankly insane, so bad that Atwood at Coding Horror thinks they should be judged on a hot/crazy scale [codinghorror.com] as in how much are you willing to lose and how much money/downtime are you willing to put up with for the speed. He still recommends them but then again this is a guy that recommends spending over $400 on a pair of headphones with another couple of hundred on an amp to drive them.

      This of course doesn't even figure in the facts that SSDs are frankly tiny little suckers and that one of any decent size would frankly be several orders of magnitude higher than the price increase on HDDs. Hell in my own case my basic WinXP/7 dual boot is taking up probably close to 200Gb simply because with 3Tb I never have to give a crap. I don't even want to know what an SSD big enough to hold that would cost, not to mention the 500Gb+ in movies, music, games, and audio projects I have on board.

      No, frankly the answer is quite simple and something we should have been doing for a long time and would have been if it weren't for traitors in congress giving tax breaks to those that offshore so they have NO penalty for exporting vital industry. what we should do is fire the mines back up in NM and treat it as what it is, vital to our national interest. it should be nationalized (I believe We, The People already own the land) and Americans should be put to work mining that ore. Too many electronics require those metals to have our industry cut off at the knees by the Chinese, and Lord knows there are plenty of Americans that can use the work.

  • A solution. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:05PM (#37149122)

    That's okay. With the economy where it is, we can replace the magnets with interns.

    • And interns work for free. Their "payment" is in the form of job experience they can put down on their resume'. Don't like it? There's a million others waiting to fill your shoes. The level of intern exploitation is pretty bad.

      Of course, you get what you pay for. When a company goes after the intern workforce, chances are the company is already financially unstable.

      • I don't know where you got your info from, but we and (IIRC all) others in my industry pay our interns. Way better than H1Bs.

      • And interns work for free.

        Intern does not mean "work for free". I, and many others, were paid quite well as interns at an automotive factory years ago while in college.

  • by xkr (786629) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:13PM (#37149186)

    The rest of the world (read: US) does not have rare earth mineral (which aren't rare at all, actually) mines because China has a long history of simply lowering prices until all competing mines have gone out of business. China considers that having a monopolistic source for rare earths gives them substantial manufacturing advantages for thousands of products, including florescent lights, medical supplies, and disk drives.

    IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:36PM (#37149332) Homepage

      All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

      No, the market price by itself would support opening or reopening [arstechnica.com] of rare earth mines. What you may need is a waiver from the EPA.

      Rare earth mining is problematic because even 'high quality' ore is very dilute. Vast quantities of material have to be processed in order to obtain any product. The primary extractive processes aren't all that polluting. The mines use a combination of physical process (magnetic separation, water separation) to concentrate the material to about 50% purity. Getting it from 50% to pure metal, however, requires quite a bit of energy and the use of a number of toxic processes.

      One way to solve this problem is to do the primary extraction at the mine site and then transport the more valuable (and now quite a bit more concentrated) ore to a central site which has the technology and supervision to further extract the material at minimal environmental risk. The US DOE (Dept. of Energy) is looking into these sorts of issues. Of course, China need not be bothered by any of this mamby pamby Greeny stuff, so they have a built in competitive advantage.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)

        While we can discuss where the line is, not wanting to poison the drinking water is not mamby pamby.

        Maybe you should look into the condition of drinking water down stream prior to 1970.

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:17PM (#37149958) Homepage

          !! sarcasm alert !!

          Read it again. I don't think China is doing anyone a favor by trashing their environment for short term profit. The balance between environmental regulation and economic opportunity is a difficult one to maintain, but I for one, am happy to pay a bit more for clean water and happy critters.

          My point is that with some forethought and planning, it appears possible to increase the US rare earth mining with acceptable environmental damage by centralizing the secondary refinement process so it can be closely controlled and monitored and perhaps reap some benefits of scale. There was an interesting report on this somewhere, can't recall where I found it and Google and my brain aren't working together as a team this afternoon....

          In general, China's current approach to trashing the environment on a huge scale is going to come back and bite them in the ass within a generation. Inscrutable long term planning, indeed.

          • Found it. Interesting read. [raremetalblog.com]

          • by dbIII (701233)
            It's already biting them hard which is why they are actually starting to do a few things about pollution. They've got air quality as bad as Victorian London in a lot of places.
          • It is already starting to bite them in the ass. In most third world countries the primary cause of death is infectious disease and in most developed countries it is heart disease. In China it is cancer. [grist.org]
      • by xkr (786629)

        No, the market price by itself would support opening or reopening [arstechnica.com] of rare earth mines.

        NOT, actually. Nobody will invest in a mine at ANY market price because history shows that China is likely to AGAIN drop prices in the future, driving other mines out of business. THUS, some kind of guarantee for investors is needed.

    • It's too easy to say that China is simply undercutting prices. In fact, both Europe and the USA could simply refuse to import rare earth minerals that are not mined according to appropriate environmental standards. But they don't - because they fear that their cronies will blame them for a their latest 1% fall in revenue, should they do and the radical environmentalists will stage another outbreak of moral panic anyway.

      The result of environmental standards in the USA and Europe is for the most part simpl
    • The companies buying the raw materials are at fault, really.

      They knowingly buy their raw materials from mining companies that they know will jack up prices as soon as their slightly more expensive competitors are out of business. The companies are idiots, because they're looking at quarterly financial statements rather than long term.

      Sure, you may be able to buy the raw materials slightly cheaper now, but in two years you've helped drive the mining companies' competitors out of business, and you can bet you

      • by Kreigaffe (765218)

        Here's the problem. If you don't buy the cheaper materials, your company might not even be around in 2 years. That's the problem.
        The solution should be a moratorium on chinese REs, or at least a tariff, neither of which will ever happen, and neither of which would work anyway because places like.. well, China.. wouldn't participate, so those that did would just be committing economic suicide.

        Ugly situation every way you look at it.

        • by SvnLyrBrto (62138)

          Correction:

          The problem is that if you don't buy the cheaper materials, the numbers in the next quarterly report won't be quite so high as they might have been, and the CEO's quarterly bonus might be a tad lower. And most C-level execs are completely incapable of looking past the next quarter and their next bonus check.

          For the overall health of the company, long-term planning and purchasing does work. As the parent said, just look at Apple; and see what happens when you pay your CEO with long-term stock op

    • google for 'California Pass rare earth' and then check out this [molycorp.com]. America's mine starts later this year, with products in early 2012. That will mean that this HIGHLY ILLEGAL BLOCKADE (which is what it is) will be done. By early 2013, America will produce about 1/2 of all rare earth and by 2014, probably around 3/4. Now, they just need products to take it since China will not be buying our rare earth.
    • IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

      It is non trivial to bring these online. It takes on the order of years but this ball is already rolling.

      The chinese might be able to screw the market over in the short run.. over the long haul they are only screwing themselves.

  • by lophophore (4087) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:14PM (#37149196) Homepage

    Rotating media is heading the way of the CRT. This will just accelerate the switch to SSD and whatever's next.

    • I had a G2 Postville in my laptop for a while, and just swapped it back out for a Spinpoint M8. With 8GB of RAM and Superfetch, the difference is definitely noticeable, but IMHO not worth the hit in storage capacity and price. Being able to have more than a barebones operating system with me (I can't really fit much more than Win7 x64 and my applications on an 80gig SSD) is currently worth more to me than the speed boost of an SSD, and 300+GB SSDs (what I'd realistically need to not have to plug in an exter

  • by sdguero (1112795) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:25PM (#37149270)
    Oh no! My next 3 TB drive is going to cost $105 instead of $100. The sky is falling!

    Pffft. This isn't news worthy.
    • This will also affect the Live Music Manufacturers since all the really sexy new light speakers are driven with Neodymium magnets and they use a lot more of the stuff per unit (lbs vs grams) than HDs

      http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f87/neodymium-%93light-weight%94-speaker-cabinet-review-167954/

      Neodymium magnets plus Class D amplifiers are creating a sea change in live amplification -I have a Markbass combo amp that does 300watts into a 12-inch speaker and weighs less than 40 lbs -of course it cost a bit: ~$1k
      h
  • The world is headed towards SSDs anyway. In fact this is only going to spur incentives for more rapid development of larger drives.
    • So either China gets big money from increased prices on rare earth exports, or they get big money manufacturing more expensive SSDs... win/win for China?

  • by Quantum_Infinity (2038086) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:43PM (#37149384)
    Aren't most HDDs made in China? So how does cutting export of rare earth metals make a difference?
    • by AbRASiON (589899) *

      No, no they aren't mostly made in China actually.
      Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand however yes.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        No, no they aren't mostly made in China actually.
        Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand however yes.

        Not quite. Seagate HDDs are produced in China, WD HDDs are produced in Thailand, Hitachi in China, no idea about Samsung but I'd be amazed if it wasn't Korea.

  • by pjwhite (18503) on Friday August 19, 2011 @06:43PM (#37149388) Homepage

    With all the old hard drives that wear out or become obsolete, I wonder if there is any effort being put into recycling the rare earth magnets they contain, or if old drives are just dumped by the ton into landfills.

    • by krray (605395)

      Well .. *I* have recycled my old hard drives... The magnets in server class hard drives are phenomenal. They make absolutely wonderful tool holders -- as long as the tool can become magnetized (and they do) without being a problem for you. You find yourself buying metal things just so you can hang them up easily... :)

      • I store my old first generation SCSI magnets on drywall screws that have been plastered and painted over on my walls. I'm still like a little kid whenever I hang a new one up.
  • by Genda (560240) <mariet.got@net> on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:08PM (#37149550) Journal

    The Chinese will mess with the price of Rare Earths (which are not really all that rare) and the US will almost certainly begin using its own from a major find in California. All the while Austrailia, Japan, Africa and South America look at seriously developing their resources. The real lock China has on Rare Earths is its processing (pretty much the only game in town right now.) Here's a chance for the U.S. to get back into industrial jobs (god forbid) and produce a lasting job base for a new global economic boom in the rare earth arena. The Chinese advantage is short term, and if they squeeze too hard, the world will simply take their business away. Nobody likes a chiseler.

    By the way rare earths are used all over the place and for a dizzying array of things. There are about 400 lbs of them in a late model Prius. They are used in virtually all green tech (high performance generators in modern wind mills are pretty much sluggs of rare earths.) Colorful plasma and LED displays use them (that cool display on your smart phone is probably chock full of rare earths.) Florescent lighting that is any color but off green uses rare earth mixed in with the coating. Rare earths are used in glass making, advanced textiles, plastics with special properties (OLEDs), and anything that uses an enhanced magnetic field from an earbud to an mag-lev train. Even the "Euro" contains a trace of Europium as an elemental pun. Modern society runs on rare earths.

  • Seriously. Anyone have statistics on the number of hard drives produced over the years?

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      the magnets of older drives are wrong size for newer capacity use, so are the electronics and servo "wrong". Remember we're talking five to seven year life on average

      if you're talking about removing the nickel cladding from the magnets, to get the material to make new different sized magnets and then reclad them, that's complicated process

      there are companies that "recycle" them, but to be cost-effective they take a fee for "erasing" your data. and there's always "refurbished" drives.
  • I have one metric shitload of neodymium from hard drive magnets. Where can I turn this fun to play with and fun to say metal into money?
  • It's totally possible to build electric motors that use electromagnets for both the rotor and the stator... Could someone explain why permanent magnets are so much better?

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