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Get Ready for the Year of the Solid State Drive

Get Ready for the Year of the Solid State Drive
January 24, 2013 4:12PM

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Ryan Chien, IHS analyst, said that the "fate of the SSD business is closely tied to the market for Ultrabooks and other ultra-thin PCs that use cache drives." He noted that, while SSD shipments increased by 124 percent in 2012, the projected growth had actually been higher. Ultrabooks suffered a slow start, but are expected to do better this year.

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The market for solid state drives, or SSDs, will more than double this year because of lower-cost Ultrabooks, leading to a greater acceptance of the drives in mainstream personal computing. That's a key takeaway in a new report from industry researcher IHS iSuppli.

According to its Storage Space Market Brief released Wednesday, the worldwide shipments of SSDs will soar from 39 million units last year to 83 million in 2013. By 2016, shipment are expected to rise to 239 million, representing about 40 percent of the hard disk drive (HDD) market in that year.

Until relatively recently, some analysts expected that SSDs would remain a niche product and never seriously challenge the dominance in the storage market of HDDs. SSDs use NAND flash memory semiconductors, while HDDs use rotating media.

'Closely Tied' to Ultrabooks

The report includes both traditional standalone SSD drives, as well as composite storage solutions, which are cache SSDs plus a HDD. These hybrids, which are used in Ultrabooks, combine the speed and durability of SSDs with the capacity and lower cost of HDDs. The report does not include, however, hybrids with read-only SSD caches.

Ryan Chien, IHS analyst for memory and storage, said in a statement that the "fate of the SSD business is closely tied to the market for Ultrabooks and other ultra-thin PCs that use cache drives." He noted that, while SSD shipments increased by 124 percent in 2012, the projected growth had actually been higher.

The reason for the higher expectation, Chien said, was because of faltering sales of Ultrabooks, "due to poor marketing, high prices and a lack of appealing features." He said that, if Ultrabooks sell this year as well as is currently expected, "the SSD market is set for robust growth."

The research firm's expectations for Ultrabooks is based on the newest wave of products with Windows 8, which IHS iSuppli said "has started to generate enthusiasm." Additionally, coming Ultrabooks' use of Intel's new Haswell processor architecture is expected to create interest among press, consumers and businesses.

Air, Surface

There's also the factor that average selling prices for NAND flash memory have dropped, which has increased the willingness of PC manufacturers to add SSDs to their computers. Looking to the future, the report said, improvements in nonvolatile memories like STT-RAM and resistive RAM also indicate performance improvements beyond the capabilities of NAND flash memory.

The report noted that, as costs continue to drop for SSDs and manufacturing processes become more efficient, it expects solid state drives to become increasingly popular in servers, storage arrays, and other kinds of PCs besides Ultrabooks. SSDs are already used in Apple's MacBook Air and Microsoft's Surface tablets.

For instance, a 1 terabyte SSD from Micron Technology is now under $600. This is about $500 more than a terabyte HDD, but it's a big drop in the SSD price from even a year ago.

In 2012, SSD prices were down overall about 38 percent. At the beginning of last year, the median cost per gigabyte was $1.64 for a consumer-level SSD, but by the end of the year it was about a dollar.

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