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Why Mechanical Hard Drives Won’t Be Going Away Yet

SSDs have come a long way. Early SSDs were notorious for not being that much faster than mechanical hard drives, but now, even the most basic SSD would leave the fastest mechanical hard drives for dead. Performance aside, their reliability and endurance have also improved too. All this, coupled with falling prices, make them viable alternatives to the trusty mechanical hard disk. This has led to proclamations that the end of mechanical hard drives is nigh.

However, as we learned from Seagate, this is far from true. Recently at Computex 2013, we had the chance to speak with Mr. BanSeng Teh, Seagate’s Senior Vice President & Managing Director Asia Pacific & Japan Sales & Marketing, who told us that the mechanical hard drive business is alive and well.

According to Mr Teh, although the number of units of mechanical hard drives shipped is declining, the total capacity of drives shipped is increasing. This means that users are buying bigger capacity drives. Demand for storage, he said, is always increasing because of the simple fact that people today are creating more and more content. So long as content is created, people would need storage to preserve them, and this is where mechanical hard drives and Seagate come in.

In terms of dollars per gigabyte, the trusty mechanical hard drive is still unbeatable. If you look at typical 1TB mechanical hard drives, a gigabyte costs just mere cents. An SSD, on the other hand, depending on its grade, costs at least a dollar per gigabyte. Hence for non-performance sensitive usage purposes, the mechanical hard drive is still the logical choice.

That aside, Mr BanSeng Teh also said that there’s simply not enough NAND memory chips to go around. According to Seagate, hard disk drive makers shipped around 100 exabytes (or 100 million TB) of storage capacity to notebooks alone in 2011. Whereas the total production of the entire NAND memory industry was just 21 exabytes. Furthermore, NAND memory is not limited to just SSDs, lots of other products depend on NAND storage too such as smartphones and tablets. According to iSuppli, Apple’s iPhone alone consumed about 10% of the total worldwide NAND production in 2012.

 

Based on this two facts, it is easy to see and appreciate why the mechanical hard drive is not going anyway soon. However, all that said, Seagate is not ignoring the SSD market altogether. In fact, the company only recently released its first ever SSD for consumers, the Seagate 600, which we found to be an excellent drive. Moving forward, Mr Teh said that they will be looking to expand their SSD lineup and consumers can expect more models in the near future.

Considering the Seagate 600 is presently using a third-party controller, in the form of Link_A_Media’s LM87800, Mr Teh said that Seagate is open to possibilities at the moment and said that they could possibly develop their own controller, either in-house or through acquisitions, or continue to work with partners.

And as to why it took Seagate so long to get into SSDs, Mr Teh was quick to admit that Seagate took a little longer than expected to react, but he firmly believes that it is "better late than never."

Kenny Yeo / Senior Technology Writer

An analog man trapped in a digital world, Kenny prefers mechanical to quartz watches, buying from brick and mortar shops as opposed to online shopping and eschews fancy dual-clutch cars for good ol' stick shift ones.

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