Still Pricey

By Reuters  |  Print this article Print

People are giving SSDs another look for the PC, now that they are used more in smartphones and tablets.

Less than 1 percent of laptops ship with SSDs, but by 2014 that is expected to rise to 10 percent, said Jeffrey Janukowicz, a flash storage analyst with IDC.

The main drawback to SSDs is cost, which has fallen but is still equivalent to $2 per gigabyte, according to IDC. Storage on a hard drive, which uses metal disks and a needle to store data, costs the equivalent of under 12 cents per gigabyte.

"The SSD doesn't necessarily have to match the hard drive, it just has to be within the ball park," said Richard Shim, a PC analyst at research firm IDC. "That may be a couple years before it happens, but it's getting there."

Shim said that in the wake of Apple's plans for the MacBook Air, other PC manufacturers will probably soon incorporate SSDs as standard features in some of their computer lines.

Market research firm Gartner believes SSDs could start to become mainstream in 2012.

"You'll see good growth next year but it's not going to be wildly pervasive," said Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth.

SanDisk is an obvious play for investors looking to benefit from the rise of SSDs because it is focused on NAND flash technology, but it is always at risk of price swings.

Companies making controllers that go into SSDs, such as LSI Corp (NYSE:LSI) and Marvell Technology Group (NASDAQ:MRVL), also stand to gain.

"I would characterize the NAND controller space as very good because it benefits from the unit growth of SSDs and is not likely to see the same type of volatility to pricing and margins that the raw memory guys will see," said Gleacher & Co analyst Doug Freedman.

Inexpensive, high-capacity hard drives are expected to store most of the world's digital data for several years to come, but market leaders Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and Western Digital (NYSE:WDC) are also investing in solid-state technology. Seagate expects to see meaningful revenue from SSDs in 2012.

Anticipating wider adoption, Toshiba this week unveiled a thin solid-state storage product for PC manufacturers called Blade X-gale, which some media have speculated could already be in the MacBook Air. Toshiba declined to comment. Apple has a policy of not revealing what parts are in its devices.

The SSD unit in the MacBook Air appears to be provided by Toshiba, according to iFixit, a company that does teardowns of consumer electronics.

Consumer electronics heavyweight Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) this year began selling SSDs made by Intel, but even with Friday's price cut they cost more than hard-disk drives with 10 times their storage capacity, a very tough sell to consumers unconvinced of their benefits.

"Is my mom buying one to put in her notebook or PC? Not yet, but the fact that we're selling at Best Buy, which caters to more of the mainstream here in the U.S., that's a positive sign," Intel Marketing Director Troy Winslow told Reuters.

(Reporting by Noel Randewich and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)