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Microsoft Trying to Kill HDD Boot Drives By 2023: Report

Shutterstock image of a hard drive

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

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 Windows 11 Minimum System Requirements

Microsoft Windows 11 Minimum System Requirements (Image credit: Microsoft )

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.

Quick SSD vs. HDD Price Comparison
Tom's HardwareRetail PricePrice-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.  

Paul Alcorn
Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • hotaru.hino
    Trendfocus Vice President John Chen tells us that replacing a 1TB HDD requires stepping down to a low-cost 256 GB SSD, which doesn't provide 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.
    I think they'll go even lower than that. I wouldn't be surprised if instead low-end laptop makers would consider sticking in say a 64GB or 128GB eMMC drive, which is like combining the worst of both worlds. After all, if the requirement is at least 64GB, why bother settling for anything but the bare minimum?
    Reply
  • peachpuff
    hotaru.hino said:
    After all, if the requirement is at least 64GB, why bother settling for anything but the bare minimum?
    No one would buy it.
    I remeber running win 10 on a laptop with a hdd once, oh the pain, after it would load windows it would still saturate the hdd for 10 minutes and the laptop was unusable until it was done.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    I've strongly advocated against buying anything without an SSD for at least seven years, and at this point 512GB SSDs are cheap enough that no one should use a hard drive as their primary boot device. Power users will want 1TB or even 2TB, but I have a lot of less technically savvy friends and family who have 500GB or 1TB storage devices that only have 100GB or so of data on them. Even a 256GB SSD would be sufficient in such cases, though again I would much rather have 1TB.

    Death to the HDD! Long live the SSD!
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    I've strongly advocated against buying anything without an SSD for at least seven years,
    Exactly.
    I've had at least a SSD for the OS drive since my i5-3570k, a decade ago.
    Not long after, all house systems are SSD only.

    The only spinners are the 80TB in or attached to the NAS.
    Reply
  • King_V
    I'm of mixed opinion on this. I mean, if you're a little savvy, you can tweak some options/scheduling for what Windows tries to automatically do, to make HDD use tolerable, but it's a bit rough. Depending on what the machine is being used for, it's workable.

    For most users, however, with Windows 10 the way it's been for a few years, and Windows 11 probably being more of it, HDDs are painful to endure. Hence, why I can absolutely understand why Microsoft is pushing OEMs in this way.

    Honestly, though, I think they should still allow it, just as an option that someone would have to select, with a bold warning that "THIS WILL MAKE YOUR SYSTEM REALLY SLOW" or something more market-friendly in those terms.


    And, I concur with @JarredWaltonGPU - hell, when I made the switch for my dad, I went with a 1TB 2.5" MX500 (there was a sale), though, it turned out his total usage of EVERYTHING, including OS, was only 55GB.

    I could've easily gone with 256GB or 512GB, but, my bang-for-buck reflex kicked in. That said, I'd probably swap him to a smaller drive if it ever came up, and probably switch that 1TB as a secondary drive in one of my son's machines (games getting a bit on the "large by huge" side these days).
    Reply
  • LolaGT
    Win can get by on a pretty small boot drive. I've been on win10 128 GB SSD boot drive for years now.
    A quick look says 40 GB free, and that number doesn't change as I tend to not pile up trivial junk on my boot drive, although I'm sure I have 10 or 20 GB of things that don't need to be there but are convenient for super quick load times. .
    Stuff I really care about are all on various other internal/external drives, HDD and SSD
    Reply
  • PiranhaTech
    I almost was reluctant to agree until I found out that a 256GB SSD is $20-25.

    SSDs are chip-based and don't have giant metal plates, a metal housing, and moving actuators, so the time will come where SSD will be standard. The price for storage below 1 TB will come where it will be cheaper anyways.

    You can have both an SSD and a magnetic drive in a laptop. I don't see any excuse, especially by 2025. People have lived with a D: drive before.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    I've strongly advocated against buying anything without an SSD for at least seven years, and at this point 512GB SSDs are cheap enough that no one should use a hard drive as their primary boot device. Power users will want 1TB or even 2TB, but I have a lot of less technically savvy friends and family who have 500GB or 1TB storage devices that only have 100GB or so of data on them. Even a 256GB SSD would be sufficient in such cases, though again I would much rather have 1TB.

    Death to the HDD! Long live the SSD!
    I'd recommend that you attach "Optane" as the type of SSD for the OS instead of standard SSD's.

    "Optane" or 3D Xpoint FTW for OS Drives!

    I want that Ultra Low Latency QD0 or QD1 Read/Write IOPS & Latency along with consistency across the entire Drive Fill spectrum.

    Regular SSD's for games or other High Linear Read/Write needs.

    Regular HDD's for bulk storage due to it being the cheapest cost per GB.
    Reply
  • gggplaya
    A 128GB SSD is like $20 these days. I don't think regular HDDs can go that cheap, even with a single platter.

    It's only people still rocking old computers that'll have trouble. They should just stay on whatever windows version they have, or pay someone to upgrade their hard drive if they can't do it themselves. Everything with a HDD should be swappable.
    Reply
  • drtweak
    Ok so triple the cost, for what? 70 times the performance almost assuming the HDD is getting 100MB and that NVME is getting 7000? Sounds like a good trade off for me. I got clients who want cheap. We get them cheap. Then wonder why it is so slow. yea you have a hard drive. You didn't want the upgrade. Its like common people. its a no brainer upgrade.
    Reply