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Flash Memory Won't Get Cheaper Any Time Soon 166

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-you'll-forget-to-send-in-the-rebate-anyway dept.
jfruh writes "Some melancholy news from the Hot Chips symposium last week: NAND memory, which powers the solid-state drives that have revolutionized storage, has broken the $1 per gigabyte barrier and isn't getting any cheaper. 'They will always be ten times the cost of a hard drive,' says analyst Jim Handy. There are newer technologies in development, but they won't be able to beat NAND on price for years."
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Flash Memory Won't Get Cheaper Any Time Soon

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  • No! (Score:4, Funny)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday September 13, 2013 @03:47PM (#44843371)

    Oh first world problems.

    • Re:No! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hairyfeet (841228) <{bassbeast1968} {at} {gmail.com}> on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:08PM (#44843517) Journal
      Actually this is as bad for the third world as well, because what do you think is used in all those ruggedized laptops and tablets in the middle of BF Africa? NAND Flash. The OLPC, smartphones (which is allowing many third world countries access for the first time to the WWW) all of these use NAND flash and as long as flash remains high it will hurt the poor more than those in the first world.
      • by default luser (529332) on Friday September 13, 2013 @05:02PM (#44843973) Journal

        You say that a high price on flash will hurt development, but when you can fit Wikipedia English into 9GB + 1GB space for the bzreader index file (a good chunk of human knowledge right there), what more do you need?

        You need a maybe 1-2GB more for an OS (not Windows) with office suite, browser, some learning tools, dev platforms, etc. Give yourself and the OS some breathing room, and we're only up to $16 of flash. That's a whole lot less than a fixed disk, and you've still got several GBs free.

        So I still don't see how this is much of a problem. You could push prices below $1/GB, but it would take a huge sea change (drop to $.25 or less) to make a real difference in the price of the device they are installed in. There's already plenty of storage for a reasonable price, if you're willing to forgo luxuries like porn :D

      • Re:No! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday September 13, 2013 @06:57PM (#44844993) Homepage

        Hate to break it to you but people have put crummy old spinning rust hard drives in computers that have been all over the planet, in space and under water for some time. Yes, SSDs are preferred these days, but it's not like ruggedized computers just appeared four years ago.

        Hell, I remember field portables with FLOPPY DRIVES. And we liked them.

        • Re:No! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Friday September 13, 2013 @08:11PM (#44845465) Homepage Journal

          I just bought an old Toughbook about a month ago with only a floppy in it. See, there's this software to program the cabin lights on a 747 that runs only on 95 or earlier and needs to produce a single-sided 3.5" floppy to insert in the aircraft. We have teams that travel the world overseeing cabin upgrades and I got tired of trying to get old Dells to live long enough to last more than one trip.

    • Re:No! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:10PM (#44843537)

      Oh goodie! It's the "Africa exists therefore you can't be dissatisfied with anything ever" argument.

    • Re:No! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:21PM (#44843625)
      I think you mean first hello world problems.
  • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Friday September 13, 2013 @03:52PM (#44843403) Homepage Journal

    ....having a perfect track record and all.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:26PM (#44843677)
      Especially when saying something won't happen ever.

      "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong." - Arthur C Clarke
      • by timeOday (582209)

        Especially when saying something won't happen ever.

        Well, if you look at the article, the prediction is that flash prices won't fall much between now and 2 years from now (2015). Not the sort of prediction that you can really counter by exhuming Sci-Fi writers for quotable quotes.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          By the way, if you are imagining that Clarke had any realistic notion of what would become possible when, re-read 2001 sometime. It is just as wrong as the old "there is a world market for 5 computers" quote, only in reverse, from cover to cover.
    • When you have an industry where there are a lot of different manufacturers that are not illegally colluding in any way, of course prices are going to avoid dropping. particularly when the first item made costs a million bucks and every one after that costs a fraction of a cent. I refuse to believe anyone who says that this is a self serving claim so that people will go ahead and buy all that they might ever use now and avoid waiting for better prices.
    • by PRMan (959735)

      I remember them saying this about regular hard drives (at $1/MB). I remember 5 of us going together to get my buddy a 512 MB drive for $499 on Black Friday. We beat the experts prediction!

      Six months later, you could get one for $399, and by the next Christmas, for $199. So much for that prediction.

      I am guessing that this one will end similarly. Somebody will have a drive for .33/GB on Black Friday.

    • Some "expert" whining that flash can't get any cheaper because of fabs, limitations, etc, etc.

      Well, I'm not buying it. Until I start hearing something from the people who actually make the tech, I'm going to say it'll probably keep going. Supply issues are just temporary. Companies can, and are, building new fabs all over. In terms of overall cost that has been getting reduced by both process size (which doesn't seem to be stopping soon) and by advances in how data is stored. Recently we've started to have

      • Well, I'm not buying it. Until I start hearing something from the people who actually make the tech, I'm going to say it'll probably keep going.

        "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
        -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.

        "Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax."
        -- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.

        "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."
        -- Albert Einstein, 193

        • Â "Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years."
          -- Alex Lewyt, president of Lewyt vacuum company, 1955

          Is anyone else here disappointed that one didn't happen bwcause I am.

    • "having a perfect track record and all."

      They were right about CPU clockspeed. We've been stuck below 10ghz for a long time now.

      • But we have greatly improved the work done per clock cycle, even when talking about a single core.
        • While that may be true, it still cant' compete with the boost in frequency that performance got in the past. Technically a 3570K is 3 generations better then a core 2 duo, but it's barely 2x as fast. Usually you get an almost doubling of performance every generation. The performance gained from i920 to i2500 and to 3570 has been abysmal. Less then 40% increase from i920 to i2500, less then 20% going from i2500 to 3570. That is a huge deal.

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Friday September 13, 2013 @03:52PM (#44843407) Homepage

    What the article actually says in the last paragraph is that there's currently a capacity shortage, that's expected to be resolved by 2015. The article also says manufacturers think they can go down another process node, and then do another 3 after that using 3D stacking. Then he says new technologies "with the speed of DRAM and the storage capacity of NAND" might make their way out of the lab next year.

    Overall, the article's contents don't really seem to support the notion that it's game over for SSD capacity improvements.

    • by DRJlaw (946416)

      Overall, the article's contents don't really seem to support the notion that it's game over for SSD capacity improvements.

      That notion is off topic. The summary says that NAND "has broken the $1 per gigabyte barrier and isn't getting any cheaper." Since the article says prices will be flat through 2015, the article at least in the short term supports the summary.

      The article actually says "Don't expect SSDs to ever get much cheaper." It suggets there may be two more process shrinks (16nm and unspecified).

  • So can we please stop comparing SSDs to platter-drives, please? Thanks.

    Spin 'em if you got 'em.
  • by djupedal (584558) on Friday September 13, 2013 @03:56PM (#44843439)
    A 4TB hdd can be had for roughly USD$200, or less. A 4TB SDD is USD$29k.
    • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:00PM (#44843461)

      Yeah, but Newegg will probably have it for $27K.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Speaking of newegg you can get a samsung 1TB for $635. That's quite a ways below the $1 per GB price point.

    • Google says you're wrong:

      http://www.sabrepc.com/p-2521-fusion-io-fs6-802-640-cs-0001-512tb-iodrive-octal-multi-level-cell.aspx?gclid=CNfJ5vOVybkCFcU5QgodwkYAMg [sabrepc.com]

      Ok, its $10K, but that's 5TB which you can't even buy right now. :)

      Still, at the enterprise class, you're looking at ~$500, so its more like ~20x.

      But its still apples to oranges as a PCI device will get you huge bandwidth. Different tools for different problems folks!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Who the hell needs 4TB in a single SSD? You can buy a multiple of smaller drives which total 4TB for a damn sight less than $29K. I don't think people making the price comparison are worrying about the extreme cases. For 'typical' sized drives of each type SSD is getting near $0.50/GB, and HDD is around $0.05/GB. That's close enough to 10x in my book.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        > Who the hell needs 4TB in a single SSD?

        Anyone that doesn't want to mess with an array to handle a simple use case of having a lot of stuff.

        It's not 1988 anymore. There's ton of multi-media content out there. You can buy it or you can create it yourself. As tech and formats continue to improve and the "problem" only gets bigger.

        Not everyone is a passive couch potato content with an anemic iPad.

        OTOH, the price difference makes even the less extreme cases of a 1TB or 500G drive problematic.

        • I asked almost exactly this question many years ago when a friend bought one of the first 1GB drives. Ever since then I have stopped asking that question.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Anyone that doesn't want to mess with an array to handle a simple use case of having a lot of stuff.

          JBOD works fine with modern media players. For example, either Plex or XBMC (or even XBMC as a Plex client) works fine with multiple disks, even if they are spread across multiple servers, which might provide nfs, smb...

        • by fnj (64210)

          Anyone that doesn't want to mess with an array to handle a simple use case of having a lot of stuff.

          So in other words, stupid people. Right?

          "Mess with" an array? How about hooking up 4 SATA and power cables to 4 drives, and engaging RAID software. Hint: it's a trivial amount of work.

          • by Jeremi (14640)

            So in other words, stupid people. Right

            Or people who don't have a lot of time to mess around with unfamiliar concepts.

            How about hooking up 4 SATA and power cables to 4 drives, and engaging RAID software. Hint: it's a trivial amount of work.

            It's a trivial amount of work if you already know what RAID is and which RAID software to use and how to set it up and what the gotchas are and what not to do.

            For example: if Joe Newbie wants to take one quarter of his files with him on a trip, does he need to bring all 4 SATA drives or can he just bring one of them? The answer is, of course, is "it depends", but the point is that if Joe makes a bad decision there he could end

        • For that multimedia you speak of, a rotating drive will be about as fast. A 10K rpm platter drive makes a lot more sense for video, which is sequential access.

          When SSDs get faster for sequential access, then I'll be interested in larger. I don't see any need for many TBs of tiny files, and SSD is only impressive with small files. Very large databases are about the only use case I can think of for large SSDs, and maybe media laptops. Even with 40TB of data, I only want a 128GB PCIe SSD for caching.

    • SSD and HDD arent the same thing and are used for different but overlapping purposes. Comparing them directly is just plain ignorance.
      • by EvanED (569694)

        SSD and HDD arent the same thing and are used for different but overlapping purposes. Comparing them directly is just plain ignorance.

        That's a dumb statement. To an enormous extent, SSDs and HDDs are used for different but overlapping purposes precisely because they have a very significant cost difference. In many cases -- almost certainly most cases -- the cost determines which you get (either directly or indirectly), so comparing the cost makes complete sense.

        • Exactly. If SSDs were as cheap as HDDs I sure wouldn't have any of the latter.
        • The point I was making is that pointing out cost/GB disparity adds nothing to the conversation. We currently use SSDs for one class of use-case and we use HDD for another use-case class. Directly comparing cost per GB, as things are now, is unproductive.
          • We can compare them by cost per GB but, we can (and should) also compare them by transfer rate and latency.
          • It's not unproductive. There are lots of advantages of SSDs over HDDs, and only one advantage of HDDs over SSDs: price per unit capacity. Saying that comparing price per GB doesn't add anything to the conversation is like saying that comparing IOPS doesn't add anything to the conversation. If you remove price comparisons, then there is no reason to think about HDDs at all. The only reason that I have any HDDs today is that SSDs of a similar capacity are not cost effective. Price per GB is the reason th
    • by Solandri (704621) on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:23PM (#44843647)
      The spot price for NAND right now [insye.com] is about $5 for 8 GB (64 Gb). So 4 TB of NAND costs $2560. Which is pretty close to 10x the cost of a $200 4 TB hard drive.

      When you buy a 4 TB SSD, you're not paying $29k for the NAND. You're paying for someone to go through the trouble of amassing 4 TB of flash, design an arrangement with controllers which can address that huge amount, and produce it in bulk. Very few people are demanding that much capacity in an SSD, so the cost of that engineering and tooling work gets amortized over fewer customers. About $2.5k for the NAND, about $26.5k for the engineering and tooling.

      With the lower capacity SSDs, those production costs are amortized over much larger volumes, and a much greater fraction of the drive cost is the NAND. A 128 GB Crucial M4 drive contains $80 worth of NAND (actually probably a bit more since there's some overprovisioning to substitute for cells which die early), and sells for $100.
      • by Kjella (173770)

        Very few people are demanding that much capacity in an SSD

        And particularly in a single SSD, for HDDs the price/GB goes down with size while with SSDs my impression is that you need to fill the channels on the controllers but after that it's just double the capacity for double the price. If you need a bigger SSD just get many and RAID-0 them.

      • by fnj (64210)

        Not only is the spot price for NAND $5 per 8GB ($640/TB), but by remarkable coincidence retailers are selling complete SSDs - damn good ones - at $635.99/TB [amazon.com]. The quoted price of $29,000 for a 4TB SSD is for a ludicrously overpriced high end enterprise drive. The only problem with Samsung selling a $2560 4TB SSD is that it way overshoots the psychological barrier of $1000 for one drive. They could clearly make one if they wanted to in a 3.5" form factor for a negligible investment, but not enough people woul

    • by jbolden (176878)

      That's not true. IBM's retail on their 1u SAN module 26TB is $33k. You'll never pay more than $26k, and they might go as low as $21k if they love you.

    • by JDG1980 (2438906)

      A 4TB hdd can be had for roughly USD$200, or less. A 4TB SDD is USD$29k.

      Apples to oranges. You're comparing a cheap consumer-grade HDD to a low-volume enterprise-grade SSD.

      The 1TB Samsung 840 EVO SSD is currently going for $635.99 at Newegg. So 4GB of SSD storage would cost $2543.96 – less than 10% of the figure you quoted. So it's about 13x what the magnetic HDD would cost, not 10x – close enough.

      The fact that you can't get more than 1TB in a SSD unit without paying insane enterprise prices i

  • "[NAND memory] isn't getting any cheaper" combined with "they will always be ten times the cost of a hard drive" could mean either:(a) both SSD:s and spinning drives will suddenly stop getting cheaper for no apparent reason or (b) Whoever wrote TFA and TFS are morons who doesn't realize that the first statement doesn't follow from the second.

    I'm guessing (b).

    • by fnj (64210)

      For SSDs it's hardly "no reason". There is a limit in physics to the dramatic process shrinks we have relied on for a long time, and as we get asymptotically closer to that limit, price falls are going to slow. Or do you think we can exceed or readily even approach one transistor per molecule?

      Already the raw cell write endurance has been falling precipitously as we have resorted to first two-level cells and then three-level cells. There is a limit to how much can be regained through overprovisioning. OK, ma

  • We would all be stuck using 1.2ghz CPUs requiring exotic liquid cooling because we've hit the limit on die shrinks.
    We would all be stuck with 500GB hard drives because there is no way to increase areal density of HDD platters
    We would all be stuck on 1.5mbps DSL lines because there is no cost effective way to push data quickly over consumer grade circuits
    We would all be on Windows Phone because MS was going to out innovate Apple and Google.

    The doomsday soothsayers have been around forever and usually have ze

    • by Bengie (1121981)
      The exa-flood is upon us! We need 100gb, and it's too expensive!

      Few months later... 400gb links! We can't sustain that growth!

      Few months later.... 800gb over a single fiber!

      We can't sustain that growth!

      Few months later.... you can now purchase 8tb/s over a single fiber and we have a working version running from Stockholm to Frankfurt with no repeaters using standard fiber.........

      I give up
    • > We would all be stuck on 1.5mbps DSL lines because there is no cost effective way to push data quickly over consumer grade circuits

      To a large degree, that's true. You can have the greatest digital signal processing on earth, but if you have a copper pair is of a length and quality that's right at the edge of what could do 1.5mbps ADSL back in 1999, the harsh truth is that you aren't going to do a whole lot better with a copper pair of equal length and quality today.

      What changed was:

      * the length of the

    • I had a 1 GHz CPU around 10 years ago. Right now I'm using a 1.2 GHz. Before that, CPU speeds would double every few years.

      Okay, I cheated because my current 1.2 GHz fits in my pocket. I do have two machines with five year old CPUs that run 3-3.5 GHz, the same speed as a new machine five years later. So there ARE some real physical limits. That's why phones are dual core and servers have eight cores - because they couldn't make faster processors they had to join together more processors running at the

  • by babymac (312364) <ph33dNO@SPAMcharter.net> on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:05PM (#44843505) Homepage
    I am especially interested in Crossbar's RRAM technology. I think it has the potential to absolutely crush NAND in both price and performance. So, this guy is likely wrong.
    • Re:Crossbar (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mlts (1038732) * on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:16PM (#44843589)

      HP's memristor/ReRAM hasn't been mentioned in a while. That technology looks promising, and like the parent states, Crossbar has 1TB chips in testing. Does that mean there will be a USB flash drive with this technology? I'd not hold my breath, especially remembering how holographic storage was always just around the corner, from back in 1992 with a company called Tamarak to a few years ago with InPhase (well, their stuff is now owned by the state of Colorado, so who knows what state their IP is in...)

      However, SSD isn't the be-all and end-all in storage. One can always make an array using battery backed up DRAM if needed and had the cash.

  • Are you guys paid to promote SSD this month?
  • 2 years? Yeah I believe him!
  • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans.gmail@com> on Friday September 13, 2013 @04:31PM (#44843713) Homepage

    I was worried that Flash might stay expensive for a while, but now that an analyst is predicting it I know it won't actually happen. So, expect a massive crashing in prices pretty much immediately.

  • ... collusion and profiteering, maybe racketeering. I think the only reason Samsung produced TLC was to use it as a buffer to justify continuing to keep the prices of MLC artificially high. Hopefully other manufacturers, since they don't (yet) also produce TLC to compete directly with Samsung, will instead finally reduce their MLC prices to compete with TLC. There might be some sort of gentlemens' agreement preventing that, though, since Samsung's TLC can buffer the MLC prices for the entire industry, no

    • And the reason is... not your reason...

      The actual reason is that as costs go down, capacity goes up as a moving maxima on a bell curve.

      It'd be cheap to buy the capacities of flash storage we have today in the future, but they won't be manufactured; instead we'll have much higher capacities at about the current price point.

      The saddle spot where you get the-best-bang-for-the-buck will stay at about the same price point going forward as capacities increase. This is the same thing that happened with hard drive

  • Actually, flash memory will continue to drop in price. Maybe not as much as hard drives have in the past 10 years, but it will continue to drop. I would be willing to bet $0.25 on it.
  • I was at the Flash Memory Summit last month and everyone there that actually makes the stuff seems to disagree... Whether going 3D or moving toward 16nm planar, or any of the post-NAND technologies, the the price/GB will get noticeably cheaper every year. The only reason it is expensive now is that the supply wasn't ready for the demand.
  • NAND is going to be 3d stacked, and it's going to at the very least provide another 10 years of life to NAND before resistive RAM or another technology finally takes over.

    Even 1 single process tick (whether it be reducing size below 20nm, or stacking a layer of NAND with a 3D process) will bring the cost below the so called "$1 barrier".

    "Samsung has big plans for future iterations of the V-NAND tech, including 3D chips with up to 24 layers, all connected by using "special etching technology" to drill down t

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