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SSDs and pricing

Mainstream SSDs cost around $2 per GB to buy right now. I was curious, so I decided to try to relate historical SSD pricing to the historical pricing of conventional hard drives.

It didn’t take long for me to find a correlation.
In mid-2008, the first JMicron-based SSDs started appearing for about $240, and that pretty much started the era of mainstream SSDs. Capacities started at 32 GB, they weren’t good at random writes and their life expectancy left a little something to be desired, but they got the price below the magical $250 barrier. At $7.50 per GB, they were affordable enough and useful enough to gain a following. Not always an enthusiastic following, as it turned out, but a following. If they accomplished nothing else, they opened the door for better things to come.

Turn back the clock a few years. In October/November 2000, you could expect to pay between $200 and $250 for a 30 GB hard drive, depending on brand and rotational speed. I remember those times, and nobody was complaining. Those $250 drives spinning at 7200 RPM were a nice way to hotrod a computer. And I remember someone at Ars Technica saying that with a storage capacity like that, he might just store his music collection as WAV files.

In early 2011, mainstream SSDs cost around $2 per GB. Sometimes a bit less, if you can find a sale. Performance SSDs are somewhat higher to recoup R&D costs on the latest controllers. But that means a 60 GB drive costs around $120, and an 80 GB drive costs around $160. That doesn’t necessarily seem like a lot of storage at a time when Samsung is talking about 4 TB HDDs, but a full install of Windows 7 Ultimate runs about 9 GB, and MS Office runs another 1 GB or so. A 60 GB drive can hold a modern operating system and a lot of applications.

I looked at historical HDD pricing, and sure enough,three years after hard drives were running about $7 per GB, I found that in 2003, conventional hard drives cost around $2 per GB. Premium features like 7200 RPM and/or SATA pushed prices up by about 50 cents per GB or so, but that’s not too different from the state of SSDs today.

And of course hard drive prices continued to fall from there. It was late 2004 when pricing dropped below $1 per GB.

If that trend continues, by late 2012 we could expect to be paying $1 per GB for SSDs. And they’ll be really fast, too.

The question is whether that trend can continue. Jerry Pournelle is fond of saying that silicon is cheaper than iron, but disk plants are cheaper than chip plants. So I don’t know if the prices on flash memory can fall by 50% every 18 months the way the prices on hard drives have.

But Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. The alternative stating of Moore’s Law, which Moore never actually said, is that performance doubles every 18 months. And price drops tend to follow the same trend.

So there’s precedent for SSD price to continue roughly on that curve, and maybe we’ll be paying 50 cents per GB sometime in 2014 and 25 cents per GB sometime in 2016. Meanwhile, capacity will increase and so should speed.

So if you’re wondering when SSD prices will fall to an acceptable level, just define acceptable, then start counting forward from today with the price at $2 per GB and halving it every 18 months.

I don’t know if capacity will increase to the point where we’ll be storing absolutely everything, including our movie collections, on SSD by the end of the decade. But in 2001, I would have said the same thing about hard drives.

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