Hard disk drives (HDDs), launched by IBM back in 1956 have long since been our main method of storing large quantities of data and the uses of computers have expanded alongside their ability to contain more and more digital information. However, this may be all about to change, sending HDDs to the same tech graveyard as paper tape and punched cards.
Reliability at a Cost
Solid State Drives (SSDs), have existed since the 90s but despite their speed and reliability advantages have suffered either higher prices or smaller capacities (or both) than their traditional cousins, making them more expensive in cost per byte terms, but prices have been falling and capacities increasing at a steady rate and next year should see price/capacity parity reached, before SSDs accelerate off into the future, leaving HDDs in their dust.
Physics of HDD
Part of the problem is simple physics. HDDs have not changed in their mode of operation since their inception, with rapidly rotating platters coated with a magnetic medium being read and written to by magnetic heads on arms that pass between them. Several times the industry has found new ways of squeezing more data onto each disk, but the wall is once again approaching and with the price gap between HDDs and SSDs narrowing, manufacturers are unlikely to want to spend the money on R&D for HDDs.
SSD economics have been given a major boost by the introduction of 3D NAND which packs 32 or 64 times the capacity into a single die meaning that as well as needing fewer chips to match HDD, capacities are likely to surpass them, with the availability of 30TB SSDs in the next 12 months being seriously talked about. Also given that they don’t need all the moving parts of HDDs, there’s a lot more room in the standard form factor slots for more chips, which themselves will continue to grow in capacity. Who knows where we will be in 5 years time.