Solid-state drives (SSD) in the first quarter got a huge boost from expanded usage in ultrathin/Ultrabook PCs as well as in PC tablets, with shipment volume to those sectors tripling within a year's time.
SSD shipments to ultrathins and Ultrabook PCs reached 5.9 million units from January to March this year, according to the latest SSD and HDD Storage market tracker report from information and analytics provider IHS. This total was up more than threefold from 1.9 million units during the same three-month period in the first quarter of 2012. SSDs also made a sizable splash in the PC tablet sector, where shipments hit 1.6 million units, likewise surging by a factor of three from just 542,000 units.
SSD shipments actually increased in virtually every segment where these electronic disks with no moving mechanical parts are used. SSD deployment rose not only in the enterprise segment governing business, but also staged strong gains in the various non-enterprise fields covering desktop PCs, notebook PCs and the industrial market for applications such as aerospace, automotive and medical electronics.
All told, SSD shipments in the first quarter amounted to 11.5 million units, up 92 percent from 6.0 million during the same time a year ago, as shown in the attached figure. The shipments include standalone SSDs, as well as the NAND flash component - also known as a cache SSD - used together with a separate hard disk drive to make up another SSD-based storage mechanism.
"The SSD market enjoyed strong results in the first quarter as both the consumer and enterprise markets ramped up their utilization of machines that made use of the drives," said Fang Zhang, analyst for storage systems at IHS. "Most notably, SSD attach rates climbed in ultrathin/Ultrabook PCs where SSDs are the de facto storage medium, and also in PC tablets where productivity options differentiate them from media tablets."
Meanwhile, the hard disk drive (HDD) market enjoyed some success of its own via the enterprise segment. Shipments here amounted to 16.0 million units, up from 14.9 million in the first quarter of 2012.
HDD enterprise demand is expected to continue growing because of the exploding use of data among consumers, especially in music, video and social networking. Consumers' needs, in turn, will necessitate cost-effective storage solutions on the part of data centers and cloud servers that store and serve up the data. HDDs are still considerably less expensive than solid-state drives, so their use remains assured despite uneven or dwindling market results at times.
The HDD market, however, is encountering challenges in the consumer PC segment. Total HDD consumer PC shipments fell to 93.3 million units in the first quarter, down from 105.3 million a year ago. The HDD consumer PC space had worse results than either the HDD enterprise segment or the entire SSD consumer PC market, mainly because of poor sales of desktop and notebook PC on which the HDD market relies, weakened by intense competition from smartphones and tablets.
A promising application of HDDs, however, is in the video surveillance market, where hard drives will exceed other storage media, including SSDs and tape. Two types of HDDs are used at present for the video surveillance industry: dedicated DVR drives for traditional analog closed-circuit television (CCTV), and enterprise HDDs.
In all, HDD shipments in the first quarter amounted to 135.7 million units, down 7 percent from 145.5 million the same time a year ago.
Among companies, SSD manufacturers whose prospects have significantly improved given their stronger enterprise strategies include South Korea?s Samsung Electronics; California-based makers Intel, SanDisk and Seagate; and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies from Japan. Also staging a strong debut in the SSD space was LSI from Silicon Valley, which claimed shipments of 400,000 PCI Express SSDs from the start of the year through April.
In the HDD market, Western Digital continued to hold the top spot for the fourth quarter in a row, beating rivals Seagate and Hitachi. Western Digital and Seagate are expected to continue battling for the top spot throughout the year, especially as the two adversaries release new HDD products, including large-capacity helium hard disks aimed at enterprise servers for data centers, which offer greater storage capabilities than current HDD technologies.