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Hard drives refuse to die

Between 1992 and 1993, entry-level desktop computers were sold with 20 MB hard disks. Those were the days of 386 computers and Windows 3.1. A 40 MB hard drive was your reward for buying a faster computer powered by a 486DX processor and running Windows 3.11.

From Megabytes, hard drive technology advanced and we started to talk in terms of Gigabytes. Instead of 20MB and 40 MB hard drives, we started talking about 20GB and 40GB hard disks. The numbers grew exponentially and soon we had 200GB and 500GB as the entry level for decent laptops and desktops.

In between, I lost count and by the time I woke up from that slumber, hard drives were being addressed to in Terabytes. In terms of numbers, this means that hard drives grew in capacity 1,048,576 times between 1993 and 2013.

When you compare the hard drives of 1993, and the ones of today, you will not fail to notice that they almost look the same in physical sizes. Today hard drives are just some notches fatter and heavier. The other difference is perhaps in terms of connectivity. While the older drives used the 40-pin parallel ports, the modern ones use much shorter SATA connector.

Hard drives are mechanical and speeds are measured in terms of how many revolutions they make in a minute. Early drives spun at 5400rpm while modern ones go as far as 7200rpm. They are called hard drives because as I said, they are mechanical; made from hard metallic parts.

Because hard drives grew more in capacities than speeds while at the same time computer chips’ speeds were growing at faster rates, hard drives started to cause bottlenecks. Time was ripe for a totally different storage technology. Enter, solid state drives, SSD. These do not have movable mechanical parts; they are a bunch of electronics.

Because they are not mechanical, they are not strictly hard drives but simply SSD.

SSD was touted as the ‘liquidator’ for hard drives. However, it may well look like hard drives have simply refused to die. SSD came with higher price tags and lower capacities. That scenario has improved but the gap has not been closed.

Internationally, you can get a 1TB SSD for $349 while a disk 20 times that capacity can be had for only $48. 20 TB solid state disks are expected to hit the market somewhere in 2020. Even then I do not anticipate that they will be as cheap as mechanical 20TB hard drives are today; less than $50.

Laptops fitted with SSD are almost twice as much in price as compared with those equipped with mechanical hard drives. The allure of lower prices and higher capacities drag the buying public to go for hard drives.

The gap between mechanical drives and solid state disks will shrink but will not be eliminated.

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