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Historical Cost of Computer Memory and Storage

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I’ve finally gotten around to update the graph and data at hblok.net/storage. Since it has been a while since last time, I thought I would be left with a gap in the data. However, John C. McCallum who collected the original data got my back. I’ve incorporated his newer data points, as well as automated my own collection. Hopefully, it will not go quit so long between updates in the future.
 
 

RAM prices up

 
Due to a fire at the Hynix Fab plants in 2012, RAM prices are significantly up, and still at 2012 prices. Joel Hruska at extremetech.com has an interesting analysis into its effects. In the chart below, he notes that prices doubled after the fire. The latest data I’ve collected show that it’s going in the right direction again. However, as Hruska also points out, the market for desktops is in decline, and laptops, tablets and phones will not need the same memory types.


 
 

HDD / Magnet disk prices go sideways

 
In 2011 flooding in Thailand caused major damage to HDD factories of Western Digital, Samsung, and Toshiba. Prices have almost recovered from that by now, however it means a set-back in the HDD trend by almost three years.

In another article by Joel Hruska, he includes the graph below from Backblaze who plotted real and estimated prices on different HDD types. Although he takes issue with Backblaze’s extrapolation, it did get the significant lag of the trend right.

Furthermore, larger drives have yet to materialize. The 6 TB HGST (owned by Western Digital) Ultrastar He6 has been out for a while. Paul Alcorn at tweaktown.com discussed the details in a review a few months back. The trick is to put a whopping seven platters into the drive (as opposed to the normal three to five). However, to make that work, the drive has to be sealed and filled helium; thus its name. The new technology comes at a higher prices: It retails at Amazon for $476.99, or $0.0794/GB. That’s more than double the Seagate 3TB at $109.99 or $0.0367/GB.

So although the helium technology has a long way to go, it could be the next step for higher capacity drives. At 6 TB over 7 platters, each hold only 857 GB. That is a bit off from the 1 TB platters which have been available for a long time now, and we were “promised” 1.25 TB platters by the end of this year. If the later are compatible with the “7Stac” technology, it could mean 1.25 * 7 = 8.75 TB drives in the future. If pricing also improves, it could be that the magnetic hard disk trend is back onto its 40 year track.

 
 

SSD and flash prices down

 
Flash memory and Solid State Drives have no accidents hampering their growth and price decline. The trend is linear (i.e. on the logarithmic scale) over the last ten years. Larger drives are also gradually becoming available, with SanDisk recently announcing their enterprise 4 TB Optimus MAX SAS, and predicting 8 TB SSDs by next year. In that Computer World article, they’ve included a Gartner graph, seen below, which predicts SSD price parity with HDD by 2017. It’s important to note that they compare enterprise drives here, which live in a completely different world than the cheapest and biggest consumer drives.

For the chart I’m tracking, it is mostly the USB sticks that make it to the top, with the best price / capacity ratio. At this point, it seems that is not because the USB sticks are getting larger, but rather that the smallest ones are getting cheaper. SanDisk is now “giving away” 8 GB drives for less than $3 (although that does not give you free shipping at NewEgg).

 
 

Updated overall graph

Finally, the updated graph. The permanent link is hblok.net/storage
 

(Click for larger image)

Historical Cost of Computer Memory and Storage

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Computer storage, primary and secondary memory, has seen a tremendous phase of development over the last fifty years. As new technology has been brought to the market prices have continued to decline steadily at a logarithmic scale. For magnetic storage, the trend has been very stable over the last thirty years, with prices per MB going down around a third every year, or a ninety percent every five years. For primary storage, the trend has been more volatile, but overall we see a similar rate of decline all the way back to the first flip-flops in the 1950s.

John C. McCallum has done a good job collecting all the data over the years, and going back to computer magazines for reference. However, since the beginning of 2012 there have been no updates, so I’ve taken up the work where he left off. I’ve added a new page to my site, where I will collect the data and update the graphs over time: hblok.net/storage


(Click image for larger version)

In the first update, the harddisk prices are most interesting, and we can now clearly see the effect of the flood disaster in late 2011. It has interrupted a thirty year trend, and as a result prices are about the same per MB as they were one and a half years ago. Now the question is, will this have a lasting effect on the magnetic harddisk prices, or will it be just a blip in history, as technological improvements bring us cheaper storage at the same phase.

The two plots below extrapolate the trend over the last thirty years, with two different scenarios: 1) Improvements in technology will catch up with the delay over the last year, and thus the thirty year trend will continue unaffected (red line). Or 2) phase of improvments will not change, and thus the rate of decline in price will stay the same, but shift the line by about a year (blue line).


(Click image for larger version)

The price is 0.4 cents per GB today (4e-5 per MB). If we look two years ahead, with the uninterrupted scenario (red line), the price would be 0.05 cents per GB in 2015 (5e-6 per MB), or put in different ways: 3 TB of storage which costs $125 today would have to go down to about $15 in two years, or for the same $125 you’d have to get a whopping 25 TB (yes, twenty five!). Given the recent news from the major harddisk vendors, that seems rather unlikely to happen; they’re only planning for 5 TB drives at the end of this year. So, over two years time, prices will not catch up. Perhaps this will change looking even further ahead, however, extrapolating technological trends beyond a year or two is merely guessing.

If we look at the second scenario, where we assume that the prices will continue to decline at the same rate as they have done in the past, given today’s price we’re then looking at about 0.15 cents per GB (1.6e-5 per MB). That would mean that today’s 3 TB would go for around $50, while $125 would buy you about 8 TB. That seems more reasonable, and also in line with what products are being brought to market and in research right now. If the rumoured 5 TB Western Digital disk will be realised with four platters (4 * 1.25 TB) at the end of this year, it means five platter 6.25 TB (5 * 1.25) disks are already a possibility. Increasing storage density another 30% to reach 8 TB over the following year seems a reasonable assumption.

Memory and Storage Prices Decreasing with Time

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John C. McCallum has collected a lot of data points for prices on both memory, magnetic disks, and flash, and made the beautiful graph below. It is interesting, since this type of graph is rather rare. He is also plotting the flip-side of Moore’s law; CPU performance, but that’s more common information.

Notice how both graphs are on logarithmic scales. It is interesting to see that the prices of (small) disk drives (in $/MB) has shown a consistent trend for the last 30 years. The very last data point shows a small increase due to the Thailand flood, but still of little significance when put into longer perspective. The DIMM and other memory prices are a bit more varied over the years, but again the decreasing price trend is very consistent, with a rather straight line going back to the very beginning, about 55 years ago.

He seems to update regularly, so be sure to check back on his page. (I hope the direct image link is not a problem).

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