A recent executive brief from data storage industry analyst firm Trendfocus reports that OEMs have disclosed that Microsoft is pushing them to drop HDDs as the primary storage device in pre-built Windows 11 PCs and use SSDs instead, with the current deadlines for the switchover set for 2023.
Interestingly, these actions from Microsoft come without any firm SSD requirement listed for Windows 11 PCs, and OEMs have pushed back on the deadlines. We reached out to Microsoft for comment on the matter, but the company says it "has nothing to share on this topic at this time."
Microsoft's most current (opens in new tab) list of hardware requirements calls for a '64 GB or larger storage device' for Windows 11, so an SSD isn't a minimum requirement for a standard install. However, Microsoft stipulates that two features, DirectStorage and the Windows Subsystem for Android (opens in new tab), require an SSD, but you don't have to use those features. It is unclear whether or not Microsoft plans to change the minimum specifications for Windows 11 PCs after the 2023 switchover to SSDs for pre-built systems.
The move to force OEMs to adopt SSDs instead of HDDs for boot volumes makes plenty of sense from a performance standpoint — SSDs are multitudes of orders faster for operating systems than hard drives, thus providing a snappier, more responsive user experience. Many laptops and desktop PCs already ship with an SSD for the boot drive, and some use a secondary hard drive for bulk storage of large files, like pictures and videos. However, some lower-end models, particularly in developing/emerging markets, still use a hard drive as the boot device.
As always, the issue with switching all systems to SSDs boils down to cost: Trendfocus Vice President John Chen tells us that replacing a 1TB HDD requires stepping down to a low-cost 256 GB SSD, which OEMs don't consider to be enough capacity for most users. Conversely, stepping up to a 512 GB SSD would 'break the budget' for lower-end machines with a strict price limit.
"The original cut-in date based on our discussions with OEMs was to be this year, but it has been pushed out to sometime next year (the second half, I believe, but not clear on the firm date)," Chen told Tom's Hardware. "OEMs are trying to negotiate some level of push out (emerging market transition in 2024, or desktop transition in 2024), but things are still in flux."
The majority of PCs in developed markets have already transitioned to SSDs for boot drives, but there are exceptions. Chen notes that it is possible that Microsoft could make some exceptions, but the firm predicts that dual-drive desktop PCs and gaming laptops with both an SSD for the boot drive and an HDD for bulk storage will be the only mass-market PCs with an HDD.
|Tom's Hardware||Retail Price||Price-per-Gigabyte|
|1TB NVMe SK hynix Platinum P41 SSD||$150||~$0.14|
|1TB SATA Crucial BX500 SSD||$75||~$0.08|
|1TB Seagate Barracuda||$45||~$0.05|
As you can see in the table above, even though SSD pricing dropped rapidly during the first few years of adoption, you'll still pay far less per gigabyte of HDD storage than you would with an SSD.
Be aware that storage pricing can fluctuate wildly and OEMs undoubtedly pay less, but the high-performance 1TB NVMe SK hynix Platinum P41 (opens in new tab), which tops our list of best SSDs, retails for around $0.14 a gigabyte. Moving down to the extreme low-end SATA SSDs finds the bargain-basement 1TB Crucial BX500 (opens in new tab) for $0.08 per gigabyte. In comparison, a 1TB Seagate Barracuda (opens in new tab) hard drive costs a mere $0.05-per-GB.
It's unclear what measures, if any, Microsoft would take with OEMs if they don't comply with its wishes, and the company has decided not to comment on the matter. Trendfocus says the switchover will have implications for HDD demand next year. We'll update you if we learn more, but it looks like SSDs will finally supplant HDDs entirely in consumer PCs soon. Hopefully we won't see the historical downward trend of SSD pricing flatten as their biggest competitor on cost, the HDD, recedes completely into bulk storage applications.