Is it time for the hard disk to die?

Written by Antony Leather

January 18, 2012 | 08:36

Tags: #hard-disk #ssd #thai-floods

If you're lucky enough to own a modern SSD, then you'll probably have been quite impressed by how much of a difference it made to every day tasks on your PC.

Compared to hard disks, boot up times are reduced, as are game and application load times, while file transfers can see huge speed boosts. Personally I've found Windows 7 and programs I use regularly such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to be much more responsive too.

All these benefits, of course, point to the fact that hard disks are somewhat of a bottleneck in modern PCs - a fact most of us have known for a while. So why are they still around? Surely if SSDs offer such awesome speed boosts (not to mention the fact they're more robust, quieter and produce less heat) the hard disk should have died a long time ago?
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You only have to look at some of bit-tech's early SSD reviews to see how much better SSDs are than hard disks, even back in 2009. For me, I assumed it would be as clear cut as TFTs vs CRT monitors - eight years or so after they began to be popular, you'll now find shelves devoid of CRTs in favour of their smaller, more power efficient successors.

Is it time for the hard disk to die?
Western Digital is just one hard disk manufacturer that's suffered because of the Thai floods.

However, up until the Thai floods, which saw hard disk prices skyrocket by up to 300 per cent in some cases, sales of hard disks were still very strong. 2TB models were available for less than £50 - a fantastic way of boosting home storage capacity, and the newer low-noise models such as Western Digital's Cavier Green range, have proved very popular with owners of NAS boxes, home servers and media PCs.

The crux of the issue is of course, that SSD capacity isn't quite up to scratch. Personally, I couldn't live with an OS drive smaller than 120GB without constantly having to reshuffle data to make sure I don't run out of room. 256GB SSDs are still very expensive so things can get tricky if you regularly deal with lots of large files.

Which invariably means using a hard disk as a secondary drive. This makes sense - affordable 2TB SSDs are still a long way off, so the only real option is to have a hard disk sitting alongside your SSD for all your data, leaving the SSD free for Windows and programs.

Is it time for the hard disk to die?
SSDs are becoming increasingly popular upgrades for laptop owners and are included in many ultrabooks as standard.

However, with hard disk prices going through the roof, the venerable storage device's last area of demand is under threat. Many manufacturers we've spoken to are reporting large increases in SSD sales as people opt for 60GB and 120GB SSDs instead of the usual 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3. Let's face it, the only reason most of us bought the latter was because it was fast - I don't think I used more than 300GB when I used one as my OS drive.

SSD prices have fallen recently too with the price per GB regularly dipping below £1. This has made them even more popular with laptop owners and we've certainly seen just as big improvements from ditching 2.5in hard disks in our laptops as we have 3.5in hard disks in our PCs.

Despite the argument against hard disks, they continue to be by far the cheapest way of storing large amounts of data. The announcement by IBM this week, that it has shrunk the space required to store one memory bit to just 12 atoms wide, is also evidence that the companies that make them are still pushing ahead with R&D.

The future is far from certain then. With SSD prices still nowhere near as cheap per gigabyte as their hard disk counterparts, the Thai floods may not be the final nail in the coffin many of us had expected.

How long do you think hard disks will be around for? If you haven't already bought an SSD because of their price, how cheap would they have to be? Let us know in the forum.
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