The price of flash drives and solid-state drives (SSDs) steadily increased over the last decade, but recently we’ve seen a change in that trend. For the first time in a while, prices are starting to go down. You can now buy new hardware for less money than ever before.
But what’s causing the price decrease? Should you buy now or will prices drop still further? And which products offer the best deals today? Let’s take a look.
Why Are SSDs More Expensive Than HDDs?
Generally speaking, SSDs are a better product than hard disk drives (HDDs). They have access speeds that are nearly 100 times faster, their lack of moving parts results in better reliability, and they draw less power than HDDs. Plus, they are quieter, smaller, and cooler.
But none of that necessarily explains why SSDs are traditionally so much more expensive than their counterparts. There are a few factors that push up the price of SSDs.
1. The Manufacturing Process
SSDs are considerably more “high-tech” than their HDD counterparts. HDDs consist of a simple circuit board with a few chips, a couple of motors, and the read/write parts.
On the other hand, SSDs deploy billions of memory cells and many chips, each of which needs associated logic. Creating those cells and semiconductors is much more complex; it’s more labor-intensive and requires a far higher level of perfection.
All that combined leads to greater manufacturing costs, and thus higher retail costs.
2. Supply and Demand
Historically, consumer demand for SSDs has been considerably lower than demand for HDDs. As such, market economics dictate that manufacturers need to charge more to cover the production costs and make a profit.
The second issue is the mobile market. Lots of SSD large manufacturers have focused on making proprietary SSDs for smartphones rather than traditional 2.5-inch drives for computers.
As a result, smaller manufacturers need to pick up the slack. But thanks to favorable supplier contracts, the large SSDs have the power to stockpile the required production materials.
Consequently, smaller manufacturers making PC drives need to pay more for components, and they pass that price onto the consumer.
3. Growth of the Sector
While consumer uptake of SSDs has been slower, the enterprise-level use of SSDs and flash drives is skyrocketing.
To keep up with demand, manufacturers need to build more factories. The cost of new factories needs to be amortized, and thus is included in the retail cost of the drives.
On the other hand, the cost of making HDDs has long since been amortized by the manufacturers, leading to lower prices.
Why Is the Cost of SSDs Falling?
While SSDs do still cost more than their HDD counterparts, the costs have been falling rapidly over the last 12 to 18 months. The price of NAND flash—the type of memory used in SSDs—is expected to decrease by 10 percent per quarter starting in the third quarter of 2018.
The decline is curious. Quarter three is usually a time of rising prices, as computer and smartphone manufacturers start to stockpile products ahead of the Christmas rush.
So what’s going on? Experts think three factors are helping to force prices down:
1. Smartphone Sales
In 2018, smartphone sales have remained reasonably flat. This has led to an oversupply of NAND flash, thus driving down prices.
2. Notebook Sales
The first half of 2018 saw above-average notebook sales. As a result, demand has dropped in the second part of the year, again leading to an oversupply.
3. Server SSDs
For manufacturers, a server-grade SSD is more profitable than consumer-level SSDs. This has led to more manufacturers entering the sector, thus increasing both competition and supply. Again, these two factors help to lower prices.
All told, demand for SSDs and NAND flash memory is expected to drop 15 percent between January and December 2018, while supply grows by 45 percent.
The theory is borne out by the facts. Look at the cost of the Samsung 860 EVO 1TB 2.5 Inch SATA III Internal SSD on Amazon (via CamelCamelCamel). The price has been on a steady downward trend throughout 2018. The current price is almost half of what it was in January:
Will the Price of SSDs Continue to Fall?
Now we come to the million-dollar question. If you’re in the market for an SSD, should you buy it now, or wait and see if the price goes down further?
Of course, it’s impossible to know this with 100 percent accuracy. But we can use the information available to us to make a prediction.
DRAMeXchange—one of the leading marketplaces for buying NAND flash memory—predicts that prices will continue to drop until at least mid-2019. Computer sales are traditionally slower in the first six months of the year after Christmas, while IDC thinks smartphone sales won’t pick up until after the summer.
— Arne (@ArneKuilman) September 9, 2018
Of course, holding off on your purchase also means some new technologies might be available by the time you get your wallet out.
In late 2017, we saw the arrival of new, higher-capacity NAND flash. During 2018, three-level (TLC) and quad-level (QLC) flash have become increasingly available at lower prices. That trend is likely to continue.
You also need to consider the continued growth (and lowering price point) of ultra-fast NVMe SSDs. They can read data four times faster than the SATA SSDs and can locate the data on the drive 10 times faster. Indeed, if you’re in the market for a new computer, you shouldn’t really consider any other form of storage media.
Our SSD Recommendations
If you want to buy a new SSD right now, which products are emblematic of the current low NAND prices?
We’ve already mentioned the Samsung 860 EVO 1TB 2.5 Inch SATA III Internal SSD, but you should also consider ADATA’s ASU650SS-960GT-C SU650 3D-NAND 2.5″ SATA III drive (approximately $0.146 per GB).
Team Group’s 480GB L5 LITE 3D 2.5″ SATA III 3D NAND drive (also $0.146 per GB) and Patriot’s Burst SSD 480GB SATA III SSD ($0.150 per GB) are both good choices as well.
Learn More About Data Storage
Ultimately, current SSD NAND prices represent some of the best value-for-money that we’ve ever seen in the market. There’s no question that it’s a great time to purchase.
If you’d like to learn more about internal storage before making your decision, check out our comparisons of NAND and eMMC flash memoryand PCIe vs. SATA SSDs.