SSD and HDD Price Analysis: End of Shortage In Sight?

Subject: Storage | December 18, 2011 - 11:20 AM |
Tagged: WD, thailand, ssd, Seagate, hdd, Hard Drive, flooding

The hard drive industry might be recovering more quickly than expected and the entire tech field should be hoping that is the case.  We have been covering the unfortunate disaster in Thailand and the accompanying disruption in the world of storage since things first started hitting the fan in October.  The initial result was a very dramatic price increase on traditional spinning disks - prices going up as much as 200% in some cases.  This week we got our hands on some very interesting data from Dynamite Data, a company focused on channel monitoring, that they were willing to let us share with you.

First, the bad news that we already know about - the price increases we have seen percolate throughout the entire industry in the last two months.

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This graph shows the average price of the top 50 spinning disk drives over the last year in red and the very specific Western Digital Velociraptor 150GB pricing on Amazon.com in blue.  You can see that around October 16th the big price increase began and over the entire ecommerce span that Dynamite Data monitors, prices on the top 50 HDDs went up by 42%.  And while not shown in the graph, other provided data shows that at its peak the low-cost leaders in the HDD market increased their prices by 150% as of early December.

Why did this happen?  Looking at inventory levels clearly shows the drop in availability.

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Based on those same top 50 SKUs, we saw ecommerce inventory drop by 90% in late October (in less than one week!) after the first impact on the supply chain that occurred on October 8th. What is interesting is that it took a week or more for the price changes to take place based on the analysis of the disaster in Thailand.  Much to the dismay of many of the conspiracy theorists out there though this data definitely backs up the price increases from WD, Seagate and others. 

There is an uplifting bit of news in both of the above the graphs though - look towards the end of the time lines of gathered data.  Both show movement in the direction of consumer's interests: a jump in inventory and a drop in average pricing.  WD announced on November 30th that the first of its production facilities was back online and we are already seeing results.  Of course the CEO of Seagate is still claiming that it will take more than a year for the industry to recover but it looks like supply may increase at a quicker rate than initially expected. 

Finally, just for a bit of added bonus coverage, many have wondered if the price increase on traditional spinning drives would affect the pricing of SSDs.  Well, it looks like did at least for a 10 day span.

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Over the last year prices for solid state drives have dropped by 23% on the top 50 devices available with one minor hiccup.  In a 10 day period between the end of October and early November, there was an SSD price increase that isn't explainable by any kind of inventory changes or supply line changes.  This was likely due to the HDD shortage and vendors looking to maximize profits when consumers didn't have access to the low cost hard drives they were used to.  But because the price increase lasted such a short time I think we can clearly see that customers didn't fall for the ploy and the hiccup was quickly self-corrected.

Even though we have been monitoring prices on our own since the Thailand disaster first occurred, it is great to get some hard data to put alongside our presumptions.  While there is tons of bad news still to digest for at least the first two quarters of 2012, the information provided by Dynamite Data provides some hope that the worst is behind us.  If you are interested in more analysis of this data and you will be at CES in January, you should stop by the Storage Visions conference where there will be a short talk on the topic. 

Intel Scales Back Sales Outlook Due To Hard Drive Shortage

Subject: Storage | December 13, 2011 - 03:54 PM |
Tagged: thailand, supply shortage, Intel, Hard Drive, amd

Due to the recent flooding in Thailand, many hard drive and hard drive part manufacturers have had to close down business to conduct repairs. Many technology news sites and enthusiasts speculated that the drive shortages from lost production time would drive the price of hard drives up dramatically as well as decreasing computer sales. The price of drives has indeed skyrocketed; however, it seems as though the fallout on the industry is a bit more widespread that originally thought.

Specifically, the hard drive shortage has even managed to effect semiconductor giant Intel. According to Market Watch, Intel Corp announced that it would be scaling back their sales outlook for the fourth quarter of 2011. While it’s previous sales outlook was an estimated $14.7 billion “plus or minus $500 million,” the company’s revised estimate is @13.7 Billion, with a +/- margin of $500 million. The 1 billion USD reduction may not seem like much for Intel; however, their stockholders have taken note and their shares are down 4 % to a closing price of $24 on Monday (and $23.56 at time of writing). As far as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the decline represents “one of the top decliners.”

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The semiconductor giant is not the only company affected by the drive shortage, however. Arch nemesis AMD’s stock price down 4.3 % for example. The site also cites Applied Materials’ 6.1 % decline. The companies that many assumed would be affected by the hard drive supply shortage included PC OEMs such as Dell and HP whose stock prices have dropped 2.3 % and 1.6 % respectably. Western Digital has begun to spin up production in the area again; however, it is likely too late for the various companies to recover. The article analyst speculates that Intel will continue playing catch-up into the first quarter of next year, and will recover starting in Q2 2012.

The numbers are showing a decline in many technology company’s stock prices likely due to lower than projected profits. It is interesting to see that even Intel felt the waves caused by the shortage. Did you find yourself second guessing computer or hard drive purchases due to increased prices?

Source: Market Watch

Seagate says hard drive industry will take a year to recover

Subject: Storage | November 19, 2011 - 04:25 PM |
Tagged: thailand, Seagate, Hard Drive, flooding

Last month we noticed that hard drive prices were spiking very high and we took a quick look at exactly why this was: most notably, the devastating flooding in Thailand.  While at one point you could buy 2TB hard drives for under the $100 mark when on special, those days seem long gone.  Our original story quoted the CEO of Western Digital as saying it could take "multiple quarters" for recovery to occur.

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Pricing graph from Pricegrabber.com for Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB

According to this quote seen on Bloomberg, Seagate's CEO, Stephen Luczo, says it might be much worse:

The projections by some Wall Street analysts that production will be back to pre-flood levels by summer are nonsense, Luczo says.

“This is going to take a lot longer than people are assuming, until the end of 2012 at least,” he says. “And by then, demand will have gone up.”

Well....crap.  Users looking to build new systems or even buy them from third parties will likely see increases in costs because of this.  And while not every need can really be addressed by SSDs (I type while looking for room on a system using one to install Skyrim...), the hard drive price increases could drive quicker adoption of solid state media in the near term. 

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In the interim, if you happen to find a good deal on spindle based hard drives, you might want to gobble them up!  Newegg has 2TB hard drives starting at $199 while Amazon has some starting at $174.

Source: Bloomberg

Hard Drive Prices Spike on Thailand Flooding

Subject: General Tech, Storage | October 27, 2011 - 04:00 PM |
Tagged: wdc, shortage, Seagate, Samsung, hitachi, hdd, Hard Drive

Chances are good you have heard about the recent flooding in Thailand - as Yahoo puts it: "The country's worst flooding in half a century, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rain, has killed 373 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million."  Obviously this is a horrific disaster and we feel for the people affected by it.

But there is a tech angle to the story that has been showing up in many of our discussions as late and is the impact this disaster has had on the production of spindle-based hard drives.  Looking for a 2TB hard drive today on Newegg.com this is what I found:

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Prices for hard drives have sky rocketed in the last week or so due to the pending shortage of them across the world.  Many of the top manufacturers have facilities based in Thailand for production as well as partners that are responsible for supplying companies like Western Digital, Seagate, Samsung and Hitachi with the parts they need to produce platter-based drives. 

While we used to talk about finding 2TB hard drives in the $89 price range, the best prices we could find on comparable units today start at $129; and this is for the slower units.  Western Digital Caviar Black drives are starting at unit prices of $229 now!

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Pricing graph from Pricegrabber.com for Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB

If you are careful and shop around, you can still find drives like this for the $149 price point at sellers like Amazon are bit slower to update their prices.  (Scratch that, after publication this was already at $199!)  But don't just blindly purchase drives at this point - do your research!

WD drives aren't the only ones affected.  When doing a search for a Seagate 2TB drive, these were our results:

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When asked for comment, a representative of one of the affected manufacturers expressed concern for the people of Thailand first, but when pressed, said:

"The entire hard drive business is affected. Two of our factories are inundated with water, which supports 60% of our output. But a ton of suppliers that the entire industry uses are also flooded so we are all impacted."

While looking over at WD's press center we found this comment from John Coyne, President and CEO:

In mid-October, to protect our employees and our equipment and facilities, we temporarily suspended production at our two factories in Thailand, which have been inundated by floodwater. In addition, many of our component suppliers have been impacted, leaving material for hard drive production considerably constrained. We are working with suppliers to assess the extent of their impact and help devise short- and long-term solutions. This is a complex and dynamic challenge that will require extensive rebuilding for the Thai people and government, and present unprecedented obstacles to the hard drive industry for multiple quarters.

Obviously with a majority of the facilities affected we can only expect these prices hikes to increase and to linger.  That fact that Coyne specifically notes "multiple quarters" indicates that users likely won't see a return to the pricing we were used to until at least mid-2012.  With competition from solid-state drives heating up, this could be bad timing for companies dependent on spindle drives as the driving revenue source: comparing a $300 SSD to a $90 standard drive is a much different decision than that same $300 SSD and a $240 standard drive of high capacity. 

According to this report from Xbit labs, the industry has "two to four weeks" of hard drive inventory available.  The author claims that this points to the situation not being so dire, but with the WD's CEO stating the effects will be seen for "multiple quarters", I am guessing we will see a major buy-up of inventory from system builders like HP and Dell that will cause drive shortages much more quickly than anticipated.  

PC Perspective will keep tracking the effects on driving pricing and if any player in the business has other input they want to offer us.  Stay tuned!

Salt + electrons = 6x increase in HDD platter density?

Subject: Storage | October 14, 2011 - 05:21 PM |
Tagged: hdd, Hard Drive

With all of this SSD talk lately, let's not forget where storage stuff originated from - the HDD. Here's your spinning rust... ah-hem, Hard Drive lesson for the day:

Hard drives store bits by changing the magnetic alignment of magnetic 'grains' which have been 'sputtered' onto the surface of an extremely flat surface, or platter. Here are some grains created with current tech (lesson after the break):

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Due to the random arrangement, storing bits on the above requires each bit to span across several grains as to ensure it is properly written.

The Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), based in Singapore, does all sorts of experimentation with, well, materials research. They had the bright idea to mix in a pinch of table salt into the sputtering process. This, combined with the use of electron-beam lithography, allows much greater control over grain creation - namely they can actually 'draw' them.

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E-beam-etched grains formed with IMRE's new process.

Not only does this enable them to have more control over grain size, but it also allows them to create them in defined tracks. This lets the drive store one-bit per grain. Combine smaller grains with a better ratio of bits to grains and you've got potential for increasing magnetic storage by nearly an order of magnitude. IMRE has already tested the process at densities of 1.9Tb/in2, and they've created platters at up to 3.3Tb/in2. Consider current HDD's run at ~0.5Tb/in2, we're talking 6x the capacity - just when we thought HDD's were leveling off.

IMRE claims the new tech can be easily implemented with existing manufacture lines. The only potential catch I see is that with current HDD's, they make the platter and form tracks onto it once it's already fully assembled. This new tech creates the tracks in the middle of the process. This makes for potential alignment issues when going for a perfect 1-bit per grain density. Think of it as writing to a CD or DVD - the tracks are already there, so your drive's laser has extra components to help it keep the beam locked onto the track during writing (to account for any wobble, etc). HDD's using this new tech may need to employ a similar method, adding complexity to what is likely already the most complex part of these drives.

This development will not only enable higher capacity drives, it should help drop the price of current capacities. I guess SSD's will have to wait a bit longer before taking over the world.

Seagate Releases First 4TB GoFlex External Hard Drive

Subject: Storage | September 8, 2011 - 11:01 PM |
Tagged: Seagate, Hard Drive, goflex, 4TB

Seagate has broken the capacity ceiling for single disk hard drives with their new GoFlex external hard drive reaching a beefy 4 TB of storage capacity. No specific details on performance have been released; however, Seagate has stated that the new four terabyte drive will be housed in their new industrial design enclosure and will carry an MSRP of $249.99.

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The new enclosure is a glossy black design that the company claims delivers a smaller footprint then their previous models. The front face holds a capacity meter that shows the used capacity in 25% increments. Connectivity options on the rear of the drive include FireWire 800 and USB 2.0. Users are also able to pair the 4TB GoFlex drive with a GoFlex adapter that enables USB 3.0 transfer speeds.

Currently, the 4TB hard drive is available for purchase from Seagate’s website, and will be available for purchase from online retailers within the month.  More photos of the drive are available here.  Personally, I had been holding off on the terabyte craze until a drive with at least four terabytes came out; however, storage needs required me to jump on a 2TB drive a bit earlier than I expected. Are you using a TB+ hard drive, or are you holding off for a certain capacity before jumping into the terabyte era?

Source: Seagate

IBM Developing 120 Petabyte Water Cooled Storage Array

Subject: Storage | August 26, 2011 - 01:04 PM |
Tagged: storage, Hard Drive, IBM, array

IBM knows how to go big or go home, and their Almaden, California research lab’s current storage project exemplifies that quite nicely. With a data repository that dwarfs anything we have today, IBM is designing a 120 Petabyte storage container. Comprised of 200,000 hard drives, the new storage device is expected to house approximately 1 trillion files or 24 billion 5MB MP3 files. To put that in perspective, Apple has sold 10 billion songs as of February 24, 2010; therefore, you could store every song sold since the Itunes Store’s inception twice and still have room for more!

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More specifically, the Almaden engineers have designed new hardware and software techniques to combine all 200,000 hard drives into horizontal drawers that are then all placed into rack mounts. In order to properly cool the drives, IBM had to make the drawers “significantly wider than usual” to cram as many disks as possible into a vertical rack in addition to cooling the disks with circulating water. On the software side of things, IBM has refined their disk parity and mirroring algorithms such that a computer can continue working at near-full speed in the event a drive fails. If a single disk fails, the system begins to pull data from other drives that held copies of the data to write to the replacement disk, allowing the supercomputer to keep processing data. The algorithms control the speed of data rebuilding, and are able to adapt in the event multiple drives begin failing.

In addition to physically spreading data across the drives, IBM is also using a new file system to keep track of all the files across the array. Known as the General Parallel File System (GPFS), it stripes files across multiple disks so that many parts of a files can be written to and read from simultaneously, resulting in massive speed increasing when reading. In addition, the file system uses a new method of indexing that enables it to keep track of billions of files without needing to scan through every one. GPFS has already blown past the previous indexing record of one billion files in three hours with an impressive indexing of 10 billion files in 43 minutes.

The director of storage research for IBM, Bruce Hillsberg stated to Technology Review that the results of their algorithms enables a storage system that should not lose any data for a million years without compromising performance. Hillsberg further indicated that while this 120 Petabyte storage array was on the “lunatic fringe” today, storage is becoming more and more important for cloud computing, and just keeping track of the file names, type, and attributes will use approximately 2 Terabytes of storage.

The array is currently being built for a yet-to-be-announced client, and will likely be used for High Performance Computing (HPC) projects to store massive amounts of modeling and simulation data. Project that could benefit from increased storage include global weather patterns, seismic graphing, Lard Hadron Collider (LHC), and molecular data simulations

Storage research has an amazing pacing, and seems to constantly advance despite pesky details like heat, fault tolerance, aerial density walls, and storage mediums. While this 120 Petabyte array comprised of 200,000 hard drives is out of reach for just about everyone without federal funding or a Fortune 500 company's expense account, the technology itself is definitely interesting and will trickle down advancements to the consumer drives.

Image Copyright comedy_nose via Flickr Creative Commons

Samsung Releases 1 TB Laptop Hard Drive

Subject: Storage, Mobile | June 9, 2011 - 03:21 PM |
Tagged: Samsung, laptop, Hard Drive, 1TB

Samsung today announced a new update to their Spinpoint laptop hard drive line, the Spinpoint M8 1 TB. Joining the storage ranks of the Seagate Constellation and Western Digital Scorpio 1 TB drives, the new Samsung hard disk features two 500 GB platters in a 2.5” 9.5mm form factor along with an 8 MB buffer, and utilizes a SATA II (3Gb/s) interface. The 500 GB per platter density was achieved by using their Advanced Format Technology (AFT), which raises the data storage density per unit area, which results in a reduced number of requisite platters and read/write heads. Samsung claims that the reduction in necessary components results in a seven percent performance increase as well as an eight percent decrease in the amount of power drawn.

The new 2.5” drive carries an MSRP of $129.00 USD. Mobile gamers and road warriors in particular are likely happy to see competition in the 1 TB+ laptop arena, which should hep to bring the 1 TB mobile drives’ prices a bit closer to their 1 TB desktop brethren.  You can read more about the new drive here.

Source: Samsung

Western Digital Launches 2.5 TB and 3 TB 3.5" Hard Drives For AV Systems

Subject: Storage | May 21, 2011 - 03:10 AM |
Tagged: WD, TB, Hard Drive

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Western Digital recently launched two new hard drives for it's AV-GP series. The AV-GP series are WD Green Power hard drives with special firmware optimized for heavy audio/visual applications such as video streaming, surveillance systems, and HD video recorders.  The two new additions to the series come in 2.5 TB and 3 TB respectively.  Both drives are 3.5" form factor, contain 64MB of on-board cache, and utilize the SATA II 3Gb/s interface.  Designed for use in high temperature environments, the drives have a claimed 1 million hour MTBF (mean time before failure) rate and are covered by a three year warranty.  Further, the 2.5 TB and 3 TB drives use the advanced format (4K sector) partitioning, which means that these drives are not well suited as boot drives, especially in the case of many older computers.  The 2.5TB WD25EURS hard drive is available for $159.99 USD while the 3TB WD30EURS variant will cost $179.99 USD.

Seagate Shows Off 1TB Per Platter Hard Drives

Subject: General Tech, Storage | May 5, 2011 - 08:28 AM |
Tagged: Hard Drive, Areal Density, 1TB Platter

 In an amazing feat of data density, Seagate has once again made a leap to the next level of storage technology unveiling 1 Terabyte per platter drives. WIth an areal density of 625 Gigabytes per square inch, Seagate claims the new drives are capable of storing “virtually countless hours of digital music,” and “1,500 video games.”

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The move to 1TB per platter drives is an especially important step for high capacity drives. Current 1TB+ drives are using two 500 GB platters, while current 3TB drives are using either four 750 GB platters in the form of the WD Caviar Green 3 TB that PC Perspective has reviewed here, or the five 600 GB platters. With Seagate’s new technology, they will be able to cut the number of platters in their highest capacity 3 TB drives almost in half. By moving from five platters to three, their drives will run cooler, faster, and with less power draw. Improved areal density also reduces the number of moving parts, and thus decreases the points of failure, even with the inclusion of newer and more sensitive read heads.

The place in the market where this new technology will make the most noticeable difference is in the mobile segment. With just a single platter, mobile users will have close to 1.5 terabytes of internal storage in a two platter drive, or 750 GB in a one platter drive while using less power and being capable of faster reads. This means that road warriors will be able to keep more of their files with them without reducing battery life compared to the current crop of mobile hard drives.

Unfortunately, mobile users will have to wait, as Seagate has only announced 3.5” desktop and external drives. These drives will be branded under both the Seagate Barracuda XT and GoFlex lines respectively.

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For desktop users, they can currently expect capacities ranging from 1TB to 3TB drives. In a RAID array, these new lower power and potentially faster drives would make for a great addition to an HD video editing rig. Call me crazy, but I’m going to hold onto my old school 320 GB Seagate drives until I can jump straight to 4 TB. So, where’s my 4 platter, 4TB drive Seagate?

Are you excited about this new platter technology? What would you do with 3 terabytes of storage?

Source: Seagate