The hard drive's reign as king of desktop data storage may be ending, at least according to Samsung. Those spinning platters will be overtaken by solid-state technology within two years for one simple reason: price.
Hard drive technology has been improved over the years by increasing the speed that data is read and written through faster-spinning disks, improved electronics, and speedier scanning head movements. Each technological leap in increasing the storage capacity did not add significantly to the total price of the drive. The opposite has been true of solid-state drives, where each gigabyte of storage scales almost linearly as more chips are added to the drive. Add more SSD memory to the chip and the price goes up. As a result, a price gap has opened up between high-capacity hard drives and solid-state ones: It's relatively cheap to increase the capacity of a HDD, and more expensive to push each new generation of SSD chip into a denser drive.
But this situation won't remain for long, as the price point for each flash chip included in an SSD is dropping all the time. Brian Beard, flash marketing manager of Samsung Semiconductors, notes that "flash memory in the last five years has come down 40, 50, 60 percent per year," and while there is no way of knowing whether that trend will continue at that high rate, it's unlikely to slow significantly. Particularly because "every major flash manufacturer posted major losses in Q4," there's pressure to push the price of SSDs down towards HDDs--and one way to do that is to simply make and sell more of them. That's a relatively simple task given the nature of chip fabrication.
At some point within the next two years, Beard predicts price parity between an SSD and HDD for the amount of storage the average user needs in a computer. And at that point the speedier-access times, improved ruggedness and lower power demands of solid-state drives will mean they'll be favored over hard disk storage. Since battery lifespans for computers should then go up, data losses through hard drive crashes will become a thing of the past and boot-up times should improve as well. Of course you can always achieve that now by buying and installing currently available SSDs--you just have to fork over the extra dollars.
Related: The Solid State Revolution (From Issue 131 | December 2008)