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HDD Vs. SSD: Does Price Matter?

The deskstop storage channel may be paving the way for a real pricing skirmish between hard disk drive (HDD) platforms and newer, more expensive Solid State Drive (SSD) components -- a battle that could have implications for the market through the rest of 2010.

hard disk

Micro Center, the provider of PCs and components with both brick-and-mortar and online operations, this month began highlighting a 2-TB Hitachi Deskstar drive for $129 -- a 35 percent discount from its initial list price. How big is the price erosion on HDDs? Consider that two years ago, 1-TB drives were routinely priced at $299.

To be sure, pricing in the PC component arena is often volatile and based on a variety of factors, including, for example, a distributor's inventory management needs. But Micro Center's pricing on the higher-capacity Hitachi drives takes place amid the backdrop of a SSD market that is becoming increasingly crowded and more competitive.

Western Digital is the latest, aggressive entrant into the SSD space, announcing its own line of Solid State desktop storage in capacities of as much as 256 GB. Street pricing on that drive (the WD SiliconEdge Blue) is list-priced at $999. However, lower-end and lower-capacity SSDs can be had now for as little as $300 to $400.

We like SSD drive technology a lot. In the CRN Test Center lab, we've found them to be fast, cool, quiet and reliable. Even at much lower capacities than HDDs, they're great. Plus, the whole idea of having no moving parts and lasting as much as twice as long before failure as hard disk technology is appealing.

But $129 for 2 TB?

For this month's CRNtech Roundup, we're focusing on two drives that both get five technical and five channel stars: the Hitachi Deskstar 7200 RPM HDD with a 2-TB capacity, and the WD SiliconEdge Blue, with the full 256 GB of capacity.

The metrics for each are straightforward.

When we evaluated the SiliconEdge Blue, its transfer of 2 GB of data to a separate HDD via SATA dock clocked a minute, 14 and a half seconds, which is on par with other SSDs of lower capacities we've looked at recently. When measured with an infrared thermometer, we saw that the SiliconEdge Blue ran at about 78 degrees Fahrenheit after about two hours. That's only slightly above the room temperature of the CRN Test Center lab.

With the Deskstar, it transferred 2 GB of data in a minute, 15 seconds even. (We did the transfer three times to be sure, and it clocked the same each time.) After about two hours, it reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit. That's cooler than other HDDs in its class that we've looked at recently.

With transfer performance about the same and a price that is a fraction of the SSD, we're impressed but not impressed enough to say the Hitachi is a better deal. It's a really good deal, no doubt, but the real test for hard drives for most people is lifespan. How long will a drive last before it dies?

Until now, our biggest beef with SSD as a platform hasn't been price as much as it's been about capacity and availability. No moving parts means less wear and tear, and greatly improved odds of lasting at least as long as the warranty. So it's got that going for it. But Western Digital has moved the technology to a point where it has enough capacity to handle an operating system, application files and a fair enough amount of data to make it worthwhile as primary drive technology for desktops and notebooks. We want to see more from Western Digital.

But Hitachi is no slouch either. It's positioned well to drive a more aggressive market in the HDD space from a leadership perspective. Other vendors, including Corsair, are starting to make a play for the SSD space so the competition is only getting started. We think WD will be in a solid position now as that happens.

At this rate, sometime in 2010 it will be possible to find 2 TB of desktop storage for under $100. When that moment arrives, the pressure will be on the SSD vendors to speed up their value curve much faster than they had previously planned. That has the potential to take the PC industry in significant, new directions.

COMMUNITY: Get involved and voice your opinion on all things technical. E-mail Edward F. Moltzen at edward.moltzen@ ec.ubm.com.

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