Where Are The Solid State Drives?

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Almost a year ago I predicted that solid state hard drives would be mainstream devices once manufacturers finished ironing out some technical kinks and the price started to come down. What happened?

Solid state drives (SSDs) are the devices that work like hard drives but don’t have any moving parts. Intel has fixed the technical issues and the results are dazzling, especially with Windows 7, which is optimized for SSDs. By all accounts, the drives are worlds faster than any conventional hard drive, with reports of Windows 7 installations in seven minutes, cold starting a computer to a fully loaded desktop in 20 seconds, and absurdly fast times to install and run programs. More memory or a faster processor might speed up a computer but a new SSD in place of a conventional hard drive is the upgrade that will blow your hair back.

Behind the scenes there is apparently a parts shortage. The manufacturers of the memory chips used in SSDs lost money in 2007 and 2008 with oversupplies when no one was buying the chips, and the turndown in the economy in 2009 curtailed investments in new equipment. Demand has gone up but the fabricators won’t be geared up to increase supply until next year.

That’s directly related to the reason we’re not buying them now. At the moment, solid state drives are wildly expensive compared to conventional hard drives. An 80Gb Intel drive is currently $215 at Amazon. You can get three 1Tb Western Digital internal hard drives for that price. If you calculate the cost per gigabyte, that makes the SSD approximately two and a half gazillion times as expensive as a conventional hard drive.

The prediction will come true. SSDs will become more widespread, although the prices will be significantly higher than conventional hard drives for a long time; they might be reserved for situations where performance is worth a premium. Notebooks seem particularly well suited, since SSDs also consume less power and are less prone to damage. Not this year, apparently – hold that thought until next year and we’ll revisit this.