Why Are Solid-State Drives So Expensive?

Ever since solid-state drives (SSDs) came out, the hype around them has been overwhelming. Media outlets were talking about how much faster they are than hard disk drives (HDDs) due to the lack of moving parts. In a way, they’re not wrong. But since SSDs went into the market, people have been asking themselves whether they’re worth their hefty price tags. More so, people have also been asking why these drives are 5-10 times more expensive than HDDs to begin with. There are multiple reasons for this, and I’ll explain why Are solid-state drives so expensive below.

ssdexpensive-nand

Flash memory is a very widely-used concept. It’s in your USB drive, your memory cards for video game systems, and your phone. Negated AND (NAND) logic gate flash is special in the sense that it maintains storage without needing continuous electrical power. This is a requirement for SSDs, since there’s no residual energy running through them when you turn off your computer. There’s one problem with NAND: it generally has a finite number of write cycles, meaning that each transistor will wear out over time.

If your hard drive wears out its NAND transistors, you may end up with anything from slight malfunctions to serious catastrophic data loss! To mitigate this, SSD manufacturers make use of very sophisticated processes that would prolong the lives of their transistors. They still will die at some point, but not as soon as they have been known to. One of their techniques consists of including more transistors to compensate for the dead ones.

It’s difficult for manufacturers to get over the NAND transistor limitations, and they probably never will completely eliminate the issue. Writing to an SSD constantly will destroy it eventually. That’s why you should just store your operating system and core programs on it and keep everything else (documents, invoices, pictures, etc.) in a hard drive.

ssdexpensive-manufacturing

Aside from the whole NAND issue, the assembly process of an SSD is a highly complex process. The controller and firmware must both sit inside of a small space and then must be tested for hours for stability and compatibility with the computers they will be inserted into. This adds significantly to the cost of production.

The manufacturing cost is also the reason why their prices get progressively higher per GB for higher-storage units. The opposite is true for HDDs, which have little problem storing more memory within a small space due to its mechanical function.

While the demand for solid-state drives is increasing, as compared to the HDDs, it only occupies a very small market share. As more and more computer manufacturers include SSD as the default storage device in laptop and computer, we will definitely see a drop in the price in the future (in fact, the price has already dropped when you compare the price between now and a year back). But as of now, the price of SSDs remains high.

There’s good news, though. The rise of mobile devices creates a larger overall demand for solid-state storage. This creates significant incentive to make these technologies cheaper.

A combination of expensive raw materials, low market demand, and costly manufacturing processes make for the hefty prices of SSDs. As with all electronics, SSDs get cheaper as time passes, but the fight against the price is significantly challenging. Be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts on SSD prices!

12 comments

  1. Being limited to accessing your SSD drive as often as you would your standard Hard Drive makes little sense to me, Being a lot faster has its drawbacks then and replacements being much costlier doesn’t make for common sense either

  2. High prices, this too will pass, pick-up a 1980’s computer magazine at the library.

    Ah, the good old days.

    • I think the SSD fad will pass more quickly. The base material in NAND chips they’re using is very flawed. I think Intel or Samsung might take them in a different direction and make another type of SSD that’s worth the investment and doesn’t experience as much wear and tear.

      • I take back what I said. Recent developments show solid market proliferation of SSDs and improvements in durability. I am humbled to see what the market’s been doing!

  3. Watching the prices of SSD’s over the past several months (the 480 GB to 512GB in particular), they seem to be steadily on the rise.

    I purchased a 512GB, SATA 6GB/s, Light-On (which is really Toshiba’s controller and silicon) for a price that is $100 to $150 less than what they are selling right now.

    I have had the drive in my laptop (a Dell XPS 15z, i7) for the past 4 months, and I absolutely love it.
    I love the drive’s speed, silence, and almost no heat (barely warm even after hours of work on the machine).

    The 500GB HDD (also a SATA 6GB/s) Seagate that came with the laptop is now in an external, eSATA / USB enclosure (but is mainly connected with the eSATA cable).
    I keep the 2 drives identical.

    Initially everything was installed on the HDD (Windows 7 Ultimate + updates, Office 2010, and a long list of software).
    Then I cloned the HDD onto the SSD, then replaced the HDD with the SSD as an internal drive. So now keeping them identical is not a hard job.

    As for mass storage, I rely on an external 3TB, Seagate, USB 3.0, that is very fast indeed.
    Now I’m hunting for a good price on an SSD (480GB to 512GB) for my desktop.

    As for failure, I would expect the HDD’s, in general, to be far more prone to failure than SSD’s, due to much higher heat, and due to mechanical movement (assuming identical chances for silicon failure on both sides, although it is higher on the HDD side due to the higher heat issue).

    After having a few drives fail on me in the past (all 3 of them were Maxtor, before Seagate acquired them, 3.5″ for desktops, by the way), I now use two drives in my desktop, and I keep those identical as well (of course neither one of them is made by Maxtor).

    The My Documents folder (with its huge 56GB, lots of it comes from my photography stuff) is backed up to an external 64GB SSD every night (incrementally of course).

    I had learned my lesson many years ago!

    I agree with TE Marc. Pick up a 1985 magazine (like BYTE), for example, and see the prices of a 4.7 MHz machine with two 5.25 inch floppy drives, and 64KB RAM.
    That would be around $1500!
    OK, they’ll throw in a 13″ amber monitor for just $100 more to sweeten the deal!
    A 900 BAUD modem is not included; that would be just a $139.99 option!

    • Prices might be going up at the moment due to the commodity market. Rare earth minerals often fluctuate wildly depending on their availability. These companies are in competition with solar panel and windmill manufacturers, which also rely on the same minerals. When the market’s tight, they’re at each other’s throats trying to get the best prices possible and buy up the most materials.

      As for reliability, an SSD is still prone to failure. A good SSD will go well as a backup device (like your situation). However, it can’t hold a candle to a reliable HDD. I’m planning on getting a nice 3 TB HDD soon, since the price dropped in the last few months, for backup.

  4. Thanks for the information, Miguel.

    That and China playing its game of limiting access and availability to rare earth metals, which has been going on for quite some time now. I believe China is the main source for these metals. Not a lot of it is available elsewhere.

    The 3TB external backup drive is well worth it. I got a great deal on mine almost 2 years ago.

    Amazing how far we have come. I remember when the IBM XT came out in the mid 1980s, while I was in engineering school, with its 5MB hard disk (yes, 5 megabytes), and no more than a 4.77 MHz processor, a 5.25 floppy drive, and a whopping 64 KB RAM for just $5,000.
    Now someone from finance can tell us what $5,000 in 1984 is equivalent to nowadays!

    I remember quite a bit of interesting stories from those days, especially about Michael Dell, who started selling computers from his college dorm in Texas, and shook the grounds under IBM’s feet with his 12 MHz machine bombshell!

    • In one single comment, you just summed up the upside and downside of capitalist economies.

      On one hand, we have China limiting access to REMs. This is a downside.

      But, there’s a trade-off: Immense rise in quality vs. price of tech products.

      Let’s not forget the Internet, which most people wouldn’t give up for a million dollars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FB0EhPM_M4

  5. This article is grossly incorrect. Materials and manufacturing are fairly cheap.The only reason the prices are stabilizing, and even increasing, is because they can get the price for them. The demand for SSDs is going crazy at the moment, especially for server side applications. These servers are in demand world wide in the data center arena….such as facebook, Amazon, Pinterest and so forth.How do I know? I work at a drive company and sell to OEMs of servers.

    • Selling OEMs and organizing the purchase of Terbium from a mining operation are two different things. Speaking of Terbium, 100g of the material has a floor price of $5,000 today. This price is expected to rise since the supply of Terbium is falling significantly.

      And this is just one of the REEs that are used as components in solid-state electronics.

      Of course, as companies manufacture these things more efficiently, the price will bottom out.

  6. “A combination of expensive raw materials, low market demand, and costly manufacturing processes make for the hefty prices of SSDs. ”

    What expensive raw materials?

    Miguel Leiva-Gomez makes the claim that the rare earth metal terbium is used in the production of SSD, apparently he is an industry sock-puppet sent to dismiss and confound the general population as to the scandalous claims of costs involved that are overly inflated and unjustified.

    The article is a misrepresentation of fact as the production of all electrical hardware and hard drives themselves do require a lot of testing before they make it on the market. It is these testing manufacturing costs that the article speciously utilises to cover for the blatant price-rigging and profiteering that is industry-wide and waved through by the corrupt legislative authorities.

    • I’m not exactly sure how you got the impression that I was saying that the sole reason for the price of SSDs is the price of terbium. REEs are only part of the price issue. Oh, and since you brought hard drives, I am wondering who could possibly consider $200 too expensive for a 4 TB hard drive, when 15 years ago that was the price a 4 GB hard drive sold for. I see a similar trend with SSDs, but that trend will be much slower.

      Your statements make no effort to explain why these drives have gotten cheaper each day since I’ve written this article. So much for conspiracy theories.

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