May 31, 2013
Flash Storage or Disk Drives: The Race for Supremacy


The question on everybody’s lips within the computer memory industry is whether flash drives or disk drives will be the future of data storage. The battle is already underway, but it is not clear to anyone who will eventually win out in this fight for computer memory supremacy.


The statistics show that hard drives are, for now, leading by some distance. 524 million disk drives were shipped globally in 2012, compared to just 39 million flash drives. Manufacturing capacity for disk drives was around 125,000 petabytes per quarter in 2012, with the capacity for flash drives just 10,000 petabytes. The figures speak for themselves, and they are hugely in favor of disk drives at this point.


But those who favor flash and believe it will eventually win out are encouraging people to look to the future, and the expected rates of growth that flash storage will experience. Predictions state that shipments of flash drives will grow from 39 million units to around 83 million units in 2013, hitting 239 units in 2016; just over half the number of hard disk drives which are currently being shipped. The rise of mobile devices such as tablets, smartphones and notebooks will contribute hugely to the number of flash drives which are manufactured and shipped, and it is also predicted that corporate buyers will invest heavily in the technology as they demand faster speeds and higher capacity.


The world’s economy is, of course, playing a large role this battle. Basic hard drives are far less expensive for companies to manufacture, and they can be assembled with more ease; where a company investing $50 million into a new hard drive factory might see results within around four months, a flash factory will take two years to build and cost a staggering $4 billion to build. These costs mean that low-cost hard drives will always be more attractive to those consumers on a budget, unless the companies manufacturing flash drives can find a way to assemble flash drives faster, and for much less investment.


However, there are many who believe the fight for dominance will eventually fade, and the most popular devices will be the ones which combine the best elements of both flash memory and disk drives. It is estimated that all of the globe’s digital content takes up an incredible 2.7 zettabytes, and the figure is only growing. There is more than enough data to go round, and there is no reason why one of the computer storage solutions should win out over the other; they both offer different benefits for different customers, and will find their niche as time goes on.

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