The relentless march of hard drive capacity is about to reach its next cantonment as 500 GB 2.5″ drives begin to arrive this month. These little half-terabyte wonders will continue the downward pressure on price and challenge flash-based drives just as they stake their claim in the main stream of the market.
Although Hitachi was first to announce and ship a 2.5″ 500 GB drive, theirs used four platters, pushing thickness to 12.5 mm – too much for most laptops and external enclosures. So Samsung’s announcement of their 9.5 mm two-platter SpinPoint M6 disk was greeted with enthusiasm, but it has taken months for actual drives to ship.
All that looks to be changing, however, as at least one vendor is currently offering SpinPoints for sale in the United States, and OEMs are rapidly raising their hands. Earlier this week it was familiar name Verbatim, who announced a 500 GB addition to their SmartDisk line. Today it is Mac-friendly LaCie with a dual-drive bus-powered RAID 0 unit delivering a massive terabyte in a palm-sized package.
All this mobile storage goodness will continue pushing cost down and capacity up in the hot mobile market. Where 120 GB was exciting last year, today we are seeing 200, 250, and even 320 GB drives in affordable notebooks and portable enclosures. I missed snapping up a 320 GB Verbatim unit last week at Best Buy for just $139, but I expect to see a lot more at this bargain price over the next month or so. That company claims their 500 GB drive will start under $300, and I expect it will drop 1/3 off that price on sale right off the bat.
Where does this leave supposed bargain NAND flash drives? They’re not looking as attractive, with even the cheapest consumer units priced over $400 for a usable 60 GB. Until vendors start hitting massive volumes, NAND will continue to command ten times the price per GB of old fashioned “spinning rust”. With similar power requirements, expect NAND to remain a niche product for another few years at least.