Is Now a Good Time to Buy an SSD?

By Michael Crider on May 22nd, 2017

Solid state drives are the future! Actually, they’re the present. While SSDs were a luxury for computer buyers a few years ago, now they’re more or less standard unless you’re going super-cheap or storing multiple terabytes of data, where conventional hard drives still rule. But if you’re looking to update to a super-speedy flash storage drive, is right now a good time?

Short answer: No, unless you can find a really good sale. Despite an increase in industrial production, consumer-level SSDs have remained stagnant in price as of late, even going up in price for some models. With new and improved technology on the horizon, you’ll want to wait for a much better drive (or just a better deal on the older ones).

Prices Are Going Nowhere Fast

We’ve been waiting several years for a big, dramatic price drop in the SSD market that just hasn’t happened. Let’s use the popular CamelCamelCamel price tracker to look at Amazon’s prices for a few popular consumer models. First up, a SanDisk 240GB SSD, a good starting point for a laptop upgrade:

You can see that despite a sizable drop of almost half its maximum price from 2014 to 2016, it’s now been steadily climbing in price for almost six months.

It’s pretty much the same story for this Samsung EVO 850 500GB model, an excellent starter for a gaming PC:

This 1TB consumer model from Crucial has occasional deep sales, but has held steady around $275 for almost all of 2017:

This 2TB Samsung 850 EVO PRO, an SSD for a serious gaming or production build, seems to plateau around $860:

M.2 SSD drives—long, compact alternatives plugged directly into the motherboard of a high-end laptop or desktop—don’t seem particularly fluid either. This Samsung model has only dropped a couple of dollars in half a year.

The consumer market for these drives at all levels isn’t improving as fast as it should. Unless you can find one on a significant sale, you’ll want to hold off on a purchase.

Manufacturers Can’t Keep Up With Demand

Analysts of the hardware market say that while both consumers and PC manufacturers are eager to fill their machines with speedy solid state drives, the OEM suppliers of the actual flash storage are hitting roadblocks in their efforts to expand. Prices are hovering around the same spots for the same drives, even going up slightly, as their various customers max out current production.

Add to that another crunch factor: a shift from 2D NAND to 3D NAND. This more complex manufacturing process allows for denser flash modules, letting M.2 and 2.5-inch SATA drives cram in double or triple the storage capacity in the same physical space. But transitioning production to these new methods is yet another strain on the supply, while demand only increases. Simple economics would seem to indicate that we’re at least a year away, maybe more, from any significant price shifts.

New Technology Might Hit The Market…But Not Soon

There’s a lot of industrial research going into the SSD market right now, a strategic move for manufacturers who see a huge potential for growth. The aforementioned 3D NAND transition means we’re seeing gigantic capacities in SSD drives, sometimes meeting even the best of hard drives, albeit at a huge price premium. And all that’s on top of general advancements in storage controllers and software components. We’re going to have to wait for the market to make prices on those more capacious drives drop, moving bigger capacities into the budget-focused models, which will take a while.

Intel is also working on what it calls Optane storage, a new proprietary type of flash memory with dramatic increases in read time. At the moment it’s only being made available as a cache drive and an industrial server-level storage solution, and even then, it’s limited to the latest Kaby Lake processors and motherboards for support right now. There’s no indication of when these drives will be available in more conventional storage formats.

The long and the short of it is, whether you want more capacity, faster speeds, or just a better deal, you should probably hold off on a purchase for at least the next few months.

Image Sources: Intel, Amazon, CamelCamelCamel

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.

  • Published 05/22/17
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