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A Look Into The Hard Drive's Future

A Look Into The Hard Drive's Future
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The good ol’ hard drive is a controversial component. On one hand, it has shown impressive capacity increases that lead to the current 1.5 terabyte capacities (see Seagate announcement). On the other hand, performance hasn’t increased at the same rate as those capacity boosts. As a result, hard drives are still the slowest core components of any modern computer.

In addition, the hard drive market is highly competitive and in a constant change of flux, with new recording technologies, capacity, and performance on the one side and cost pressure along with emerging storage alternatives, such as flash memory squeezing on the other. We wanted to have a closer look at the hard drive arena and enlisted the help of Hitachi to do so.

Hard Drive Market Segments

The market is not as easy to assess as you might imagine, because there are multiple players that all focus on different product types. These can be primarily characterized through different form factors, most notably the 3.5,” 2.5,” and 1.8” sizes, as well as others. However, these form factors do not necessarily equate to a particular market segment. While the HDD market is divided into at least four segments—server/workstation, desktop, mobile, and consumer electronics—it is not possible to strictly assign each form factor to one of these segments. For example, there are 2.5” drives for notebooks, but there are also 2.5” models for servers. In addition, hard drive makers do not all cater to the same segments and form factors, but portfolios vary a lot.

Trends: Upswing for 2.5” Drives

The trend towards smaller form factors started many years ago when 5.25” hard drives were phased out in favor of the 3.5” ones, which were much easier to handle, faster and more robust. Higher recording capacities helped to bridge potential capacity gaps as a result of this move, since smaller platters store less data at comparable areal densities.

Today, the trend continues in favor of 2.5” hard drives for multiple reasons. The enterprise segment benefits from 2.5” server hard drives due to their much improved performance per watt and better I/O performance. Mobile computers, which still show the strongest growth worldwide, require lightweight and compact hard drive solutions. Finally, capacity isn’t an issue anymore today because of further increased recording density, and a plethora of interface options allowing users to add storage capacity as needed.

Threats to the HDD

Smaller hard drive form factors such as 1.8,” 1.3,” and 1.0” are still controversial. While we believe that 1.8” drives will remain an important segment for ultra portable computers and consumer devices, the smaller form factors at 1.3” and 1.0” face increasing pressure from flash-based drives. For starters, cost per capacity improves faster on flash products than on compact hard drive solutions. At the same time, the enterprise segment is also turning to flash SSDs, as high-performance versions easily outperform any mechanical drive.

The hard drive will not disappear any time soon, but the hard drive makers have to focus on the areas where flash memory cannot beat mechanical drives: cost per capacity when it comes to high storage capacities on 3.5” hard drives for the desktop; consumer and near-line enterprise storage; and cost for performance level in enterprise storage.

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  • 0 Hide
    giovanni86 , September 3, 2008 7:39 AM
    Cannot wait to get my hands on at least a 1TB or 2TB, 10TB's mother of god, imagine all the games i can store on that. Still running my old Seagate 120GB's in my PC =(.
  • 6 Hide
    ravenware , September 3, 2008 7:49 AM
    Quote:
    mother of god, imagine all the games i can store on that

    Sure,....games. :D 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 3, 2008 8:22 AM
    You talk about harddrives like they are the only storage media offered. DVD's are and soon blueray or equivalent will be the cheapest form of storage, much more then future conventional HD's. As far as flash media is concerned, the smaller SSD's (up to 32gb) have significant performance. The write speed on my Asus 901 is faster then on my 150gb Raptor. I honestly believe that people will come to their senses, convert to SSD's and use large format DVD/Bluray media for storing all their "tv shows, photos, etc".
  • 2 Hide
    johnbilicki , September 3, 2008 8:59 AM
    DVD+DL is what I'm currently using to archive large amounts of data that I won't be using for a few years. I'll eventually move it to dual-layer Blue Ray discs when it won't require me to sell a kidney on the black market. At $150 for a TB I can't wait to see how much more the prices will slide this month when Seagate's 1.5TB drives debut.
  • 1 Hide
    enewmen , September 3, 2008 9:10 AM
    Good article and THG even included the future capacities I was looking for!
    But what about holographic memory? I was reading about this for years. Will these come or has normal hard-drives reached the performance & capacities holographic memory promised?
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 3, 2008 6:03 PM
    By the time a 10TB HDD comes out the games will be half a TB so I am gonna say you will be able to get the same amount of games on it that you have on your current drive. I remember thinking the same thing about my first 6.4 GB hard drive. As the storage space shoots up so will file sizes, the same goes with everything, in six years windows went from 1.5 GB to 15 GB for just the install, I assume that the OS will be huge. The more space we have the more software writers will take.
  • 0 Hide
    giovanni86 , September 3, 2008 6:12 PM
    chaisnaw667By the time a 10TB HDD comes out the games will be half a TB so I am gonna say you will be able to get the same amount of games on it that you have on your current drive. I remember thinking the same thing about my first 6.4 GB hard drive. As the storage space shoots up so will file sizes, the same goes with everything, in six years windows went from 1.5 GB to 15 GB for just the install, I assume that the OS will be huge. The more space we have the more software writers will take.


    Now as much as i'd like say your right, your right to a certain degree. MMO's in general as i've noticed have been the big hitters with AOC taking up what 40-60gb's. General games like UT3 and COD4 take around 6 to 8gb's. Most of other games take around 1 to 3gb's, steam around 12gb's but that has a shit storm of games. I do not see a general game going past 10 to 20gb's maybe until after 2010 possibly. But you never know, i just hope games do not get that big i am already struggling with my 120gb.
  • -1 Hide
    rhysee , September 3, 2008 9:43 PM
    chaisnaw667By the time a 10TB HDD comes out the games will be half a TB so I am gonna say you will be able to get the same amount of games on it that you have on your current drive. I remember thinking the same thing about my first 6.4 GB hard drive. As the storage space shoots up so will file sizes, the same goes with everything, in six years windows went from 1.5 GB to 15 GB for just the install, I assume that the OS will be huge. The more space we have the more software writers will take.


    I believe you are correct , game will be massive in 5 -1 0 years time , like TB size ..
  • -2 Hide
    Luscious , September 3, 2008 10:27 PM
    I would love to see how they will be MARKETING those 50TB hard drives of the future, when you plug it in and Windows only reports back 45.47TB of free space...

    The larger the capacity, the larger the difference is between using ^2 and ^10, and until hard drive manufacturers make the change, hard drive manufacturers will continue to rip customers off.
  • 1 Hide
    Luscious , September 3, 2008 10:40 PM
    It's also interesting to see they make no mention of any PERFORMANCE improvements whatsoever, but only rant on endlessly about increasing capacity.

    Sata III has an interface bandwidth of 600MB/sec and is already being rolled out. How about developing a drive with throughput that can effectively USE that bandwidth???
  • 0 Hide
    Numerical , September 4, 2008 5:33 AM
    "5,400 RPM initially died out because 7,200 RPM spindle speed offered much better performance with only a little trade-off in performance."

    I think you gots'a typo there. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Yote , September 4, 2008 8:20 AM
    I must say, that you guys have been writing some of the best hard drive articles I have ever read. I usually get irritated by the obfuscation and deliberate misrepresentation (and sometimes just plain ignorance) that normally accompanies such reviews. I use to be in the hard drive industry and was taught hard drive tech by one of the original IBM engineers. ( The first thing I did when I got home from the first day of class was to back up my data!) Hard drives are absolutely amazing as is your coverage of them :) 

    I'm glad that I have began researching my next big build by starting here. I had pretty much given up on review sites as pandering to gamers and dismissing everyone else as irrelevant, sometimes insultingly so. [ I could not believe the way another review site responded to a reasonable comment/question by one of the biggest names in his field. The reviewer pretty much disqualified himself by expressing an opinion that displaying complete ignorance of the total breadth of the area under discussion. Kinda like telling a German Brewmiester that Old Style is the only "worthy" beer and everything else is overpriced swill.]

    Your coverage of other areas is also of the highest quality and most helpful, even for seasoned pros. You've managed to answer most of the questions I have had about the latest hardware developments, Thanks!


    BTW, can't wait until SSD becomes humanly aforable.
  • 0 Hide
    thomasxstewart , September 4, 2008 11:06 PM
    NATIVE COMMAND QUEING Is BIG Deal to Shop FOR. Unless you setting Up Multiple systems with same make/model, usually, Native Command queing is Needed, like automatic defragging, it just is functioning needed capability for proper system function.

    Signed:p HYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART VON DRASHEK M.D.
  • 0 Hide
    SuperStruct , September 5, 2008 4:43 AM
    I completely agree with Luscious. Hard drive manufacturers are focusing on capacity and not speed. That really pisses me off. I find it ironic that we've been able to get processors with speeds that would have been considered supercomputer speeds years ago and yet we're still waiting for Photoshop to load it's plethora of plug-ins and font checks because we're using magnetic spinning discs - essentially a bloated turntable-like technology. I would gladly sacrifice my 500GB hard drive space for a flash drive of 64GB just so I wouldn't have to constantly wait for programs to open and do disc I/O. This article doesn't mention that by using 10TB of disc space, you risk the chance of catastrophic data loss without any backup, which would be essential with that much space. I've had so many hard drive crashes that I consider them only a temporary storage solution. I would NEVER store my wedding pictures, taxes, or essential data on a hard drive without having another drive as backup and DVDs as a final backup. Lastly, this article doesn't point out alternative technologies other than SDD drives. Isn't someone working on making faster hard drives that can actually keep up with processors and RAM? There's gotta be some university crew out there that's researching something that would destroy magnetic discs as a useful solution to data storage. I finished reading this article and just wanted to scream knowing that I'll have to use slow, unreliable magnetic discs for another 10 years. I can store lots of pictures and movies, but I'll still have time to wash my dishes, fold my clothes, make dinner, and maybe run a few errands waiting for version 9 of Windows to load when these 10TB discs finally come out...
  • 0 Hide
    asdasd123123 , September 7, 2008 10:11 PM
    What bugs me is how slow even the fastest basic drive is.
    I recently bought a 1tb Samsung F1, supposed to be the/one of the fastest standard drives available, and partition copied to it, vista ran like it was encased in jell-o basically, from being a fast 2x3ghz gaming system, to feeling like a slow years old laptop.

    I've been using 2x36gb raptors for FOUR years now, isn't it about time new hardware is faster?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 6:33 AM
    A couple of minor errors that might have slipped through the editors (no biggie - I make those when I'm sleepy all the time)

    page 2
    hitachi row in portfolios column isn't filled

    page 6
    blah blah blah "offered much better performance with only a little trade-off in performance."
  • 0 Hide
    aclin , September 9, 2008 5:14 PM
    I didn't read all the comments but did anyone suggest putting a bunch 1.0's together in a raid configuration and have it fit in a 5.5 inch bay with it's own raid controller built in? so that the OS would see it as a single drive.
  • 0 Hide
    v12v12 , September 9, 2008 7:28 PM
    Unfortunately, we're not going to see much performance change in anything, so long as the marketing / technological metering of advancements continues. They (manufacturers) are for long projected product runs and then decide how they are going to potentially meter them out based on the market and competitor's offerings. Nobody is suddenly going to release some uber drive that destroys everything in the fray.... why do that? It's a quick-buck profit plan Vs metering it out and just staying slightly ahead of the next guy. That's the major problem with overt-capitalism: it stifles major innovations and creates a market for metered technology = LARGER and LONGER term profits...

    In essence, it's manufacturer's profit strategy Vs consumer demands/needs. Both are in direct conflict with each other per se. IMHO/E

    The problem arises when we get to situations where content is starting to conflict with that metering: as mentioned earlier about ever increasing game/application size AND loading speeds. CPUs are far beyond what the avg consumer needs, or will ever need atm. GPUs are catching up, but it's (mult-icore sector) largely hindered by inept programming/lack of coding to take advantage of SMT/multi-core hardware. Yeah they can increase bus speed all they want as a future predictor or buffer for hardware to catch up… but if the metering pace continues as it has been, I’ll still be using dual 36GB raptors Vs shelling out 100% more in cost for as little as (or less!) 10-15% performance increase… frankly an extra 10-30seconds load/burst/sustained transfer time is NOT worth $100 (or more) in my opinion for a “new” drive… 5mintues, now that is eye-catching performance. People are being conned into paying 100-200% for new drives, only to reap meager double-digits in seconds of “performance.”

    All of this push is also leading to some of the WORST and unreliable drives I’ve ever seen… now you’re lucky to get a large drive (400GB+) that isn’t full of failing sectors and or complete drive failures Vs my old 850MB WD Pata which STILL works fine today. I’ve had at least 5 “newer” (since the 13.5GB GXPs) fail on me, leaving huge gaps in my data’s life GONE perm—once DURING a dang backup!!!

    At the rate of technological progress now—I won’t be buying anything new until absolutely necessary. The gamer bug (addiction) is not going to have me going out and spending a fortune for very miniscule performance increases… many are just baseline requirements to even play certain games *coughcrysiscough*: A waste of money in my opinion… ciao.
  • 0 Hide
    a_k_a , September 11, 2008 1:16 AM
    To me, this was a puff piece. These guys are rationing us along on old tech because they can sell 2x as many units when they keep the capacity at 1/2 of what can easily go to market next week. They're just streetcorner pushers.

    Give me a laptop that can be a complete storage solution with just its swappable bay, and I can finally cut the cord from this sham market. For backup, all anyone really needs is a faster spindle speed for the transfer rate, and 1TB in a 2.5" form factor. No less, no more. Until then, laptop owners are stuck coming back to the pushers for more, with box-and-cord as their ball-and-chain.
  • 0 Hide
    a_k_a , September 11, 2008 2:46 AM
    As a matter of fact, have you considered the possibility that Hitachi is planting these projections in the public domain via your "interview" in order to get other hard drive producers on the same page in terms of the rate of tech trickle-down?

    "2.5” notebook drives at 1.5 TB by the beginning of the next decade and roughly 4 TB by 2013. Desktop hard drives will have reached around 10 TB by then."

    Sounds like an opportunity for market fixing to me.
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