In a world where you cannot cram a hard drive into a modern thin-and-light laptop and a cheap high-capacity 2.5-inch SSD can replace an HDD in a desktop, you would expect consumer hard disk drives to go extinct. Yet, while their unit sales are dropping, sales are still strong at nearly 139 million units per year. In fact, capacities and exabytes shipments of client HDDs are setting records.
Despite the rapidly growing popularity of SSDs in the consumer PC space — particularly among enthusiasts — hard drives for desktops and notebooks represent the largest HDD category in terms of units sold. Last year the industry shipped 54.46 million hard drives for desktops as well as 84.42 million HDDs for notebooks. While unit sales of client PC HDDs are dropping, their average capacity is increasing, which is why the capacity of all client HDDs totaled 266 exabytes in Q4 2020.
Seagate was the undisputed market leader last year with a 42.7% market share and 110.96 million HDDs shipped. Western Digital followed its rival with 96 million drives and 37% of the market, while Toshiba was a distant third with 20.3% of the market and 52.8 million units sold.
Since capacities of SSDs shipped in new PCs are sometimes insufficient, many people buy external direct-attached storage (DAS) devices with 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch HDDs inside. Such DAS devices are usually classified as consumer electronics (CE) drives, so they fall into the same category as game consoles and digital video recorders. In total, 49.05 million CE HDDs were sold last year, the data from Trendfocus shows. Unfortunately, it is unclear what exactly (apart from retail DAS and various DVRs) the company includes in the 3.5-inch CE category.
All the hard drives supplied by these three manufacturers in 2020 could store 1081.32 exabytes of data, which seems to be up compared to 2019 and 2018.
Speaking of exabytes. 3.5-inch hard drives for servers, enterprise, and nearline applications commanded over 62% of exabytes shipments last year. In total, the three manufacturers shipped 59.22 million of such HDDs last year, an increase of 11.8% year over year. Meanwhile, the 2.5-inch enterprise-grade hard drives market is dying. It dropped to 12.66 million units in 2020, a decline of 27.9% year-over-year.
The year 2020 brought no surprises to the HDD market. The general trend of lower unit sales and higher exabyte sales was set several years ago, and it continued in 2020. Meanwhile, many of HDD categories that exist today, including 2.5-inch HDDs for clients, servers, and CE, are set to either decline dramatically or actually cease to exist in the coming years as SSDs replace them.