When it comes to data storage, Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are two of the most common options. Both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to factors like speed, durability, and of course, cost. For many consumers and businesses, cost is one of the most important factors when choosing a data storage solution. In general, SSDs tend to be more expensive per gigabyte compared to HDDs. However, SSD prices have been steadily dropping over the years, making them more affordable. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at SSD and HDD pricing to see which option truly costs more.
SSD Cost Factors
SSDs have become much more affordable in recent years, but they are still pricier per gigabyte than HDDs in most cases. Here are some of the factors that affect SSD pricing:
- NAND flash memory – The core component of SSDs is NAND flash memory chips. More advanced chip types like 3D NAND generally cost more than older planar NAND chips.
- Controller – SSD controllers handle tasks like caching, encryption, error correction, and interfacing with the host system. More advanced controllers lead to higher prices.
- Form factor – Smaller form factors like M.2 SSDs usually have higher prices per gigabyte than larger 2.5-inch SSDs.
- Interface – Newer interfaces like PCIe 4.0 have faster maximum throughput than older SATA interfaces, but also have higher costs.
- DRAM cache – SSDs with DRAM caches for the controller have faster performance but also higher prices compared to DRAMless SSDs.
- Endurance – SSDs optimized for high endurance like enterprise/datacenter models cost more than lower endurance consumer SSDs.
- Brand name – Well known brands like Samsung and Western Digital generally charge a premium over lesser known brands for comparable SSDs.
The manufacturing process for NAND flash memory also plays a big role in pricing. The factories that produce cutting edge flash memory chips require massive capital investments measured in billions of dollars. These costs are eventually passed down to the consumer through higher SSD prices. However, over time manufacturing processes mature and become cheaper, which leads to lower SSD prices.
HDD Cost Factors
Now let’s take a look at the factors that influence HDD pricing:
- Platters – HDDs consist of one or more magnetic platters that store data. More platters allow for higher capacities but also increase cost.
- Materials – Aluminum and glass platters are cheaper than more durable ceramic and glass platters found in enterprise HDDs.
- Head technology – Advanced head technologies like heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) enable higher capacities but are pricier than conventional perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR).
- RPM – Higher RPM speeds like 10K and 15K lead to better performance and higher costs compared to slower 5400 and 7200 RPM HDDs.
- Cache – Larger onboard DRAM caches improve performance but also raise the price of HDDs.
- Shock protection – Enterprise HDDs designed for 24/7 operation have shock protection features that increase costs.
- Form factor – 2.5-inch HDDs are generally more expensive per gigabyte than 3.5-inch desktop HDDs.
- Brand name – Top brands like Seagate and Western Digital charge a premium over lesser known HDD manufacturers.
HDD manufacturing also requires major capital investments for things like clean room facilities. However, the processes involved in making HDDs are mature and have benefited from decades of refinement, keeping costs relatively low.
SSD vs. HDD Average Cost Comparison
Now that we’ve looked at the major factors affecting SSD and HDD pricing, let’s compare their actual real-world costs. Here is a table showing average $/GB prices for consumer SSDs and HDDs across different categories and capacities:
|2.5″ SATA III Internal SSD||250GB||$0.15|
|2.5″ SATA III Internal SSD||500GB||$0.13|
|2.5″ SATA III Internal SSD||1TB||$0.11|
|M.2 PCIe NVMe Internal SSD||250GB||$0.18|
|M.2 PCIe NVMe Internal SSD||500GB||$0.15|
|M.2 PCIe NVMe Internal SSD||1TB||$0.13|
|2.5″ 5400 RPM Laptop HDD||500GB||$0.05|
|2.5″ 5400 RPM Laptop HDD||1TB||$0.04|
|3.5″ 7200 RPM Desktop HDD||2TB||$0.03|
|3.5″ 7200 RPM Desktop HDD||4TB||$0.02|
This table reveals a clear pricing advantage for HDDs on a cost per gigabyte basis. The most expensive HDDs max out at around $0.05/GB, while even bargain SSDs start around $0.11/GB. The lowest HDD prices can go as low as $0.02/GB.
Mainstream SATA III SSDs in the 250GB to 1TB range tend to cost between $0.11 to $0.15 per gigabyte. M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs are slightly pricier in the $0.13 to $0.18 per gigabyte range.
Laptop 5400 RPM 2.5-inch HDDs have average prices of $0.04 to $0.05 per gigabyte. But 3.5-inch 7200 RPM desktop HDDs are even cheaper at $0.02 to $0.03 per gigabyte for higher capacity 4TB to 8TB models.
Cost Per GB Over Time
While HDDs maintain an advantage in cost per gigabyte today, SSD pricing has been dropping at a faster rate over the years. Here’s a look at how the average $/GB has changed over time for both SSDs and HDDs:
|Year||SSD $/GB||HDD $/GB|
In 2011, SSDs averaged a whopping $1/GB while HDDs were at just $0.05/GB. The huge 20x price gap made HDDs the obvious value choice.
Fast forward to today, and SSD prices have dropped by over 10x to around $0.12/GB. Meanwhile, HDD pricing declined much more slowly to $0.02/GB. The current price gap is just 6x between the two storage technologies.
If these trends continue, SSDs are on pace to reach price parity with HDDs in the next 5-10 years. Manufacturing advances and rising adoption will continue to push SSD $/GB down over time.
Factors Beyond Cost Per Gigabyte
When comparing SSD and HDD costs, it’s important to look beyond just the upfront price per gigabyte. There are several other factors that affect the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a drive.
SSDs provide huge performance benefits over HDDs in terms of sequential and random access speeds. This can translate to significant productivity gains and time savings for users. The superior user experience of SSDs versus HDDs can justify the higher upfront cost for many consumers.
The flash memory chips in SSDs consume much less active and idle power compared to the mechanical platters and moving heads in HDDs. For mobile devices like laptops, SSDs can extend battery life by 30 minutes or more compared to HDDs. The power savings accumulate over years of use, helping offset the higher purchase price of SSDs.
With no moving parts, SSDs are far less prone to mechanical failure than HDDs. Today’s SSDs have lifespans measured in hundreds of terabytes written, which equates to many years of use for typical consumers. The higher reliability and durability of SSDs saves users from both data loss and drive replacement costs over the long run.
SSDs offer much higher storage density compared to HDDs, with smaller 2.5″ SSDs able to match or exceed the capacities of larger 3.5″ desktop HDDs. This allows manufacturers of laptops, tablets, and slim PCs to design thinner and lighter devices by using space-saving SSDs instead of bulkier HDDs. The compactness enabled by SSDs is a major advantage in mobile computing applications.
When factoring in performance, efficiency, reliability, and density benefits, SSDs can potentially offer superior total cost of ownership compared to HDDs over their full lifespan. The higher upfront cost of the SSD can end up paying for itself several times over during years of productive and reliable use.
SSD Cost Projections
Although HDDs retain the raw $/GB cost advantage today, SSD prices are expected to keep falling in the coming years. Here are some SSD cost projections based on industry analyst forecasts:
- By 2025, mainstream SATA SSDs will reach $0.05/GB, achieving price parity with HDDs.
- NVMe SSDs will hit $0.07/GB by 2025 due to their performance advantages over SATA SSDs.
- New technologies like QLC and PLC NAND flash, along with 3D stacking will drive costs down.
- Improved manufacturing efficiency will lower per-chip costs, benefiting SSD prices.
- SSDs could fall below $0.03/GB by 2030 with adoption of post-NAND technologies like ReRAM.
With such massive reductions in SSD costs projected, HDDs will lose their price advantage. Enterprise HDDs will remain cheaper on a raw capacity basis, but SSDs will dominate client/consumer storage in the future.
When HDDs Make More Sense
While SSDs are dropping rapidly in price, HDDs still retain some key advantages today in certain usage scenarios:
- Nearline/backup storage – High capacity HDDs are ideal low-cost solutions for nearline/cold data that only needs occasional access, like backups and archives.
- Bulk media libraries – For storing large media libraries with mostly sequential access like videos and music, HDDs may still be preferable based solely on $/GB.
- Frequency of access – Data that will rarely or never be accessed is better suited to cheaper high-capacity HDDs rather than more expensive SSDs.
- Super-high capacities – For software-defined mass storage measured in petabytes, HDD arrays are the only cost-effective solution today.
So applications that call for infrequent bulk access or massive capacities can still justify HDDs purely for their lower $/GB. But for more typical client storage needs, SSDs are looking increasingly compelling as their pricing reaches parity with HDDs.
SSDs have historically had much higher costs per gigabyte compared to HDDs. But with SSD prices declining exponentially in the last decade while HDD prices stagnate, the cost gap has nearly closed. All signs point to SSDs reaching raw $/GB parity with HDDs within the next 5-10 years.
When looking beyond just upfront costs, SSDs can already provide superior total cost of ownership compared to HDDs thanks to substantial gains in performance, efficiency, reliability, and density. For most consumer and business uses, SSDs are becoming the clear favorite over HDDs.
HDDs will still play an important role where sheer bulk capacity and infrequent data access trump other considerations. But for mainstream storage, SSDs are poised to dethrone HDDs as the new king of cost-effectiveness within the next decade. The long era of hard disk drive dominance for client storage is coming to an end as solid state drives take over with compelling advantages in almost every respect, including price.