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Learning to Appreciate HDDs

I remember the day my parents bought me my first PC back in 2006. I was so excited. It was this huge desktop unit with a large color monitor (not a flat panel) and a 40GB hard disk drive. So, when I started as an intern at TAEC (Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc.) two years ago, I was amazed that our best-selling Nearline HDD capacity was a massive 14TB. In thirteen years, HDD capacity in the industry grew from 40GB to 14TB. That’s an astounding compound annual growth rate of over 50%.

After graduating college, I was offered a position as a Business Analyst in TAEC’s HDD department. Within the HDD group, I am viewed as the “newbie”, and several of my colleagues have actually worked in the HDD industry longer than I’ve been alive. They talk about the days when HDD capacities were in the MEGABYTE range and not terabytes that it is now. As I delved into the history of HDDs, I found that IBM was the first company to introduce an HDD back in September 1956. The first HDD, RAMAC 350, was size of an industrial refrigerator and contained fifty 24” diameter disks. All of this yielded a capacity of 3.75MB – a rounding error by today’s HDD capacity standards, but back then, 3.75MB was considered a tremendous amount of capacity.

The worldwide HDD industry is a mature one and thus, there are many articles about how solid state is a superior technology and that SSDs will displace HDDs soon. However, those same articles usually never address SSD (production) capacity or specifically the lack of it. According to the latest 2CQ21 TRENDFOCUS report, total NAND bit shipments for the quarter totaled 141 exabytes. That includes bits consumed by all solid state devices such as mobile phones and USB thumb drives, and not just SSDs. Compare that to the 243 exabytes shipped by Nearline HDDs during the same period¹. So even if SSDs were to completely replace HDDs, current NAND production capacity is way too small to overtake HDDs.

Before joining TAEC, I really didn’t know much about HDDs, so these two years have been a great learning experience. I have grown to really appreciate what HDDs have to offer. Besides the obvious traits such as massive capacities—18TB currently and still rising—disk drives’ cost performance is hard to beat. TRENDFOCUS’ data shows that Nearline HDD $/GB is well below $0.02 and continues to track a steady downward curve, while enterprise-class SSD $/GB is nearly 10 times higher and is not expected to gain significant ground on HDDs through 2025².


Nearline HDD, eSSD &/GB Long Term Forecast

And despite the large capacity disparity between HDDs and SSDs, companies offering HDD products continue to forge ahead. To reach higher areal densities, HDD engineers are developing new technologies such as Toshiba’s FC-MAMR (flux-control microwave-assisted magnetic recording). This new and innovative technology helped Toshiba launch a 18TB Nearline HDD earlier this year and an 18TB NAS (network attached storage) HDD last month.

Hard Disk Drives just celebrated their 65 birthday last month, and although I am far from retiring, my two years at TAEC have flown by. With new technologies such as FC-MAMR paving the way for future products, I look forward to many more learning years for me in the industry and at Toshiba.

1,2 Source: HDD shipment data search, TRENDFOCUS, Inc. ( (Subscription required)

Toshiba defines a megabyte (MB) as 1,000,000 bytes, a gigabyte (GB) as 1,000,000,000 bytes and a terabyte (TB) as 1,000,000,000,000 bytes. A computer operating system, however, reports storage capacity using powers of 2 for the definition of 1GB = 230 = 1,073,741,824 bytes and therefore shows less storage capacity. Available storage capacity (including examples of various media files) will vary based on file size, formatting, settings, software and operating system, such as Microsoft Operating System and/or pre-installed software applications, or media content. Actual formatted capacity may vary.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc.

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