Hard Drives Still Dominate Laptop Market – SSDs Make No Inroads

According to recent research by IHS iSuppli, the traditional hard drive still has a monopoly of storage in the laptop market – at least 97% market share.

Their report shows that 58% of laptop shipments included a hard drive larger than 320GB and were priced from $350 to $550. About another 25% of laptop shipments included a hard drive larger than 640GB and were priced from $550 to $750.

Only 3% of the total market belonged to either 128GB SSD (Solid State Drive) laptops or very high-end hard drive laptops – both priced above $900. I’ve reviewed before just how much an SSD can speed up a computer but SSDs have many other advantages over standard laptop hard drives:

  • Higher shock resistance – less likely to fail if dropped/carried roughly
  • Extended battery life – because they use less power
  • Silent operation – no moving parts
  • Less heat – reduced fan noise
  • Longer lifespan (in theory they are similar but in practice better due to improved shock resistance)

It should be a no brainer for most average users, right? SSD use should be widespread – especially in the $350 to $750 price bracket that accounts for over 80% of all laptop shipments.

So why do SSDs represent less than 3% of the market? Is it because consumers don’t want them – or because manufacturers don’t want consumers to have them, at least not at this price point?

Perhaps the latter is true – manufacturers may purposely restrict SSDs to high end models such as Ultrabooks because they are far more profitable. This could explain their unwillingness to market SSDs to the mainstream user but, if so, their strategy isn’t working – they’re not selling high end models in volume either and such a strategy appears doomed in the context of a global downturn.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Hewlett-Packard suffered the worst ever loss in its 73-year history and that Dell profits fell 18% as revenue declined – “In both cases, PC sales fell more steeply than the companies’ overall revenue”.

The PC market has stagnated over the last few years – only the release of Windows 7 caused more than a slight ripple. From Dell’s shocking (literally) pink laptops to Intel’s regular ‘slightly quicker than the last’ processor upgrades there has been only the subtlest evolution in the PC space.

Whilst there are many causes of the slowdown in PC sales, the failure to market SSDs (arguably the biggest recent advance for the PC mass market) can only have contributed to consumers falling out of love with PCs.

SSD share
SSD Share just 3% of market

SSD Price/Storage Differential

The only downside to an SSD compared to standard hard drives is relative price and storage capacity e.g. a 120GB SSD costs about $75 – the same price as a 500GB hard drive.

However, unless a user actually needs more than 120GB, they could enjoy all the benefits of an SSD for a similar price – twice as fast startup and shutdown times, instant program opening etc.

It should have been simple for manufacturers to market these benefits, offer SSDs in the mass market price bracket covering 80%+ of sales and stimulate demand – but most haven’t even tried, reserving SSDs for only their high end models.

Of course buyers who do need more than 120GB of storage should have the alternative of a larger capacity standard hard drive – but how many average consumers really need more than 120GB storage in a laptop anyway?

Post-PC Era Alternatives

Consider some of the most discussed tablet alternatives on offer (which use SSD equivalent Flash storage):

Google Nexus 7 – maximum 16GB storage

Kindle Fire HD – maximum 64GB

New iPad – maximum 64GB

Even the Microsoft Surface W8 Pro (launching next month) only has 64GB or 128GB storage – and it’s a true post-PC / laptop crossover.

Supposed lack of storage capacity certainly hasn’t stopped these devices making huge inroads into the laptop market. They might have other desirable features like apps and touchscreens but a sizable minority of buyers will be attracted purely by the speeds of startup and casual browsing etc.

Comparing Flash (SSD) storage tablets to, for example, a netbook with a clunky standard hard drive is not a fair comparison and a raw deal for some consumers.

What do you think – would you buy a laptop with an SSD or a hard drive? Or would you buy a tablet instead? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Hard Drives Still Dominate Laptop Market – SSDs Make No Inroads”

  1. My take on why SSD’s failed to penetrate the storage marketplace: They are harder to setup and FAIL much more often – WAY too often.

    Even high end models by reliable manufacturers have high failure rates that exceed those of hard drives. My experience with the Crucial M4 128 MB unit failing after only a few months of use is apparently typical if you give the support forums a cursory read. Replacement of a boot drive is just way too painful and typical image backups do not write to a replacement hard drive transparently.

    • @Bob – In W7 onwards there is not much difference to set up compared to a hard drive, except that the SSD will install more quickly… Granted, XP is a pain due to lack of TRIM support which may affect longevity/speed too but XP is on its last legs and the article is more about new PC sales than upgrading a 12 year old OS.

      There have been issues in the past with failures (especially firmware and early Sandforce) and there may still be problems with specific drives but nowadays many SSDs offer 5 year warranties which is longer than most hard drives. A few months ago Intel said that less than 1% of its drives were returned as faulty which is as good a figure as HDDs.

      • Yes, Roy, so they all say but the reality is quite different from the party line. First there is the minor issue of setting ACHI in BIOS. Second there is the issue of dealing with proper SSD configuration post installation like turning off Win indexing, not performing defragmenting operations, and all other operations that stress TRIM and SSD in general. And so on and so on, eg moving certain program cache storage operations to hard disk partitions. Third, common freeware software too often pukes when attempting to restore images to SSDs (personal experience leaves a bad taste). All of these are pretty sophisticated operations for mom & pop, albeit nothing much for pros, I agree altho discussions of poor performance when sector misalignment occurs is troubling.

        The reality of SSD failure rate seems quite different than the press with numerous models showing extremely large failure rates [b]as reported by end users[/b] at Newegg and the like. Something is going on there since reality does not seem to match the press and I never trust the press all that much. In the big picture and long view, SSD is still new, more expensive and unperfected tech compared to HD, IMO.

        I think we all can agree to disagree on this one Roy.

      • @Bob – no problem, life would be boring if everyone agreed with me ;-)

        Re free imaging software, Macrium Reflect does a pretty good job (SSD to SSD anyway, I haven’t tried SSD to HDD or vice versa as I’d prefer a clean install in those cases)

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