Monday, May 21, 2018
Publication Date: 03/1/2008
Archive >  March 2008 Issue >  Tech Watch > 
What Storage Medium Is Best?

Today's Holy Grail is for the optimum storage media, and this ongoing search looks as if it will never end. No matter what technology is developed, tomorrow somebody will have something that they claim is much better. With BD Sony found the royalty stream. Toshiba turned its attention to the bigger market — HD and chip memory.

The quest for making bigger, faster, more versatile, cheaper bit buckets goes on and on

There's some pretty good logic. After all:

  • We're creating more content than ever before.
  • We're copying it everywhere.
  • We're sharing it like never before.
  • We're storing it everywhere.

According to the company, We want/expect it everywhere/anywhere/anytime.

The moment content became digital rather than analog it became difficult if not impossible to manage and control. Suddenly people wanted, expected and needed their content with them all the time. The result: the multiple volume of content will increase six fold in the next five years!

Fast and Cheap
Storage has become so fast and cheap, that if you can't immediately locate something, the tendency is to grab another copy and store it — somewhere. With storage so readily available and so cheap it's easier.

If you ask the chip folks they're going to find Holy Grail first. Just look at the trends in the walk-around content market. No one will deny there is a huge, almost insatiable storage chip demand in almost every application area you can think of. The problem is that each of the manufacturers is certain they will capture 30-40 percent of the market and they ramp production accordingly so prices fluctuate — wildly. The manufacturers have already won. They can't pump chips out fast enough.

Check the stats: iPods and media players, handheld games, cameras, flash drives, mobile phones. The more they make, the higher the capacity, the cheaper they are, the more we buy. How many flash drives do you have in your pocket right now? This is portable/personal storage that stays portable and stays personal. Couple of folks even said USB drives could kill DVDs because you could go to a kiosk, download your movies, take them home enjoy them, go get more?

Of course someone forgot to ask Tellywood if that was OK, or how long the download would take, or the cost differential between a punched out plastic disc and chip, or if you could copy it somewhere at all.

Low-Res Phones
The phone folks love to wave around their new smartphones with content to the screen, INet experience, e-mail, music play and everything else. Of course: the video quality sucks, streaming content (TV or movie) is barely tolerable to watch, processing power is not really wonderful, but is improving, desktop applications just don't look right, and storage is anemic. This is still just a telephone, which is now trying to also be a mobile entertainment center.

So solid state memory folks have set their sights on an even bigger, seemingly insatiable market — notebooks, desktops, servers. The new frontier for chip storage folks: SSD drives that are designed to be hot-swappable replacements for HDDs. They have the typical hockey stick production volume/sales/profit curve every VC has seen. Problem is they have not considered hard drive producers as part of the equation — as though they would simply stand still.

Users are playing right into their hands. The new MacBook Air is a super-lightweight that uses a fairly conventional HDD. The competing Lenovo Thinkpad X300 has no hard drive, but has 64GB of flash memory instead. It saves weight and power usage, so the super-skinny notebook weighs just a hair over 3 pounds. It took a heavy dose of engineering and a lot of little parts to produce a 3 lb ultra slim notebook computer like the Lenovo X300. It also meant that there were a lot of compromises that had to be made.

Where's the Market?
Isn't this what the traveling businessman has always wanted? The superlightweight notebook with reasonably good storage? The ultralight weighs in around lbs, conserves power, since SSD uses less power than HD; it has an HD quality screen, and is built with composites in the case so it can handles a decent drop.

But that 64GB is not really enough for today's power user. If you've got an Air with the OS, apps, iTunes library, photo album(s) and couple of ripped movies; there's no room for work.

Steve's done a lot of things right with great panache but no battery bay, just one USB port, a little connectivity (very little), no DVD player/burner.

Or grab up a fully loaded X300. Windows Vista bloatware sucks up space or you can get it with XP Professional; add half your music files; tack on your great personal videos; throw in the latest season of Lost; add a couple of business presentations and where's the storage? Suddenly you find the need to carry a pocket-size USB external HDD, and when you plug that in, there goes the battery life.

Solid-state is great for a lot of things but being huge, ultra cheap bit buckets is not part of the mix — at least not yet. Sure, USB flash memory is down to about 10 bucks per gigabyte, but those 32 and 64GB flash drives are still a bit pricey.

Like it or not (and storage folks like it), consumers aren't changing their content habits. They're making more, showing more, copying more, archiving more, storing more, shifting more, sharing more.

Through all of the challenges, all the adversities people keep plunging ahead. They don't change their habits no matter how rough the terrain, the trip or the load. That's why the HDD industry keeps knocking out platters with greater capacities, lower power consumption, shock intelligence and lower cost per GB.

While executives may like the sleek lines of the MacBook Air and the Lenovo X300, real notebook users need storage capacity. So do home and business network users who press hard drive manufacturers to produce faster and higher capacity drives at an increasingly lower cost per GB.

When you can buy a notebook with a 120GB HD in it for around $1,000 compared to the 64GB Air or X300 for $3K are you going for price/performance or bragging rights? Okay, so it weighs a couple of pounds more, but it sure costs a lot less. Heck for $175 more you can get a 320GB external HD that slips in your pocket.

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