The most popular storage medium this year for superthin Ultrabooks and similarly built laptops won?t be the pricey solid state drives (SSD).
Instead, they will be the so-called cache SSD storage consisting of NAND flash memory running outside a hard disk drive (HDD) that will be more economically priced for users, according to an IHS iSuppli report.
Shipments this year of cache SSD solutions for Ultrabooks and ultrathins are projected to amount to 23.8 million units, up nearly 360 percent from just 5.2 million units in 2012. This year cache SSD shipments for the first time jump over pure SSD storage, expected to ship 18.7 million units for Ultrabooks and ultrathins.
Overall, cache SSD shipments will represent 53 percent of the storage solution for Ultrabook/ultrathins, versus 42 percent for pure-SSD types. The remaining 5 percent will come from shipments of a third solution more commonly known as hybrid HDD?one that employs embedded NAND flash inside a hard disk drive in an integrated form factor.
IHS expects cache SSD solutions to continue to maintain their lead in the Ultrabook/ultrathin market until at least 2017. By that time, cache SSD shipments will reach 49.2 million units, compared to 44.6 million pure-SSD shipment units for Ultrabooks and ultrathins. Markets also exist for cache SSD and pure SSD solutions to non-Ultrabooks and non-ultrathins, but shipments here are smaller than for counterpart solutions to the superthin laptops.
The use of solid state drives or a component of it?either as cache SSD or as embedded NAND in hybrids?is an important weapon being deployed by Ultrabooks and ultrathins to revitalize the PC space as a whole. PCs have suffered badly ever since consumers started gravitating toward more nimble and fashionable mobile devices with PC-like functions, such as media tablets and smartphones.
The PC market dipped last year for the first time in 10 years, and sales of mobile PCs including Ultrabooks and ultrathins are likely to see flat growth or even a slight decline this year, even though superthins are projected to take off in the second half of 2013. In their fight against tablets and smartphones, Ultrabooks and ultrathins could marshal their storage solutions as one factor that could help sway consumers to reconsider the laptops in a new light. Flash memories help PCs hasten boot-up times, delivering greatly improved speeds over their rotating-head HDD rivals.
While both standalone SSD and cache SSD solutions will deliver fast performance, cache SSDs will enjoy more rapid adoption in Ultrabooks and ultrathins because of their lower cost. The consistently high price of solid state drives will prove no match for the lower-density NAND flash used in cache SSDs, combined with already economically priced hard disk drives. In turn, the savings obtained by laptop brands from such a solution can be passed on to consumers, with cache SSD mechanisms driving total Ultrabook and ultrathin costs down to about $700 this year, compared to a thousand-dollar price tag for pure-SSD-fueled notebooks.
Meanwhile, hybrid HDD solutions will grow more than fiftyfold in the next four years even though they possess a much smaller market at present than either cache SSD or pure SSD solutions. Shipments of hybrid HDD storage will surge from 2.6 million units this year to 20.5 million units by 2017.
While hybrid HDD solutions have the smallest market share at present compared to the two other storage solutions for Ultrabooks and ultrathins, all three hard drive manufacturers have announced new hybrid HDD solutions for the super-thin laptop market.
In March, Seagate Technology said it will begin shipping its third-generation solid state hybrid, or SSHD, products at 7-millimeter and 9.5-mm. thickness. The new SSHD drives contain 8 gigabytes of flash memory with either a 500-gigabyte or 1-terabyte hard drive. The 500-GB version costs $79 while the 1-TB version costs $99 - approximately $20 to $25 more than a conventional 500-GB or 1-TB hard disk drive. The markup on price could be much more, however, once PC brands and original equipment manufacturers put the drives into computers and once those computers get sold in retail.
Seagate archrival Western Digital is also working on a hybrid HDD in 7- and 5-mm. versions, with the 7-mm. version expected to ship in the second half this year. Western Digital is currently working with Taiwanese makers Acer and Asus, and California-based SanDisk is believed to be one of its flash memory providers.
Toshiba, the third manufacturer, announced a 9.5-mm. hybrid drive in January, but adoption by the market is not expected because of its overly large size. Toshiba, however, could make a 7-mm. version available by the second half this year to compete with similar offerings from Seagate and Western Digital.
Ultrabooks and ultrathins will continue to deepen their penetration of the PC market, IHS believes, despite a slower-than-expected uptake last year that appears to be continuing to some extent in 2013. But going forward, two out of three notebooks will be a super-thin PC by 2017, and two out of three of Ultrabooks and ultrathins will sport either cache SSD or a hybrid HDD storage solution. As such, both SSD and HDD industries stand to reap substantial benefits for providing the appropriate storage solutions.