SSD prices in steady, substantial decline

A look at the cost of the current generation

On all too many occasions, we've bemoaned the state of hard drive prices. They rose sharply after last year's Thailand flooding and still haven't returned to what many of us would consider normal. There is good news on the storage front, though. The current generation of solid-state drives is cheaper than ever, with multiple models living comfortably below the dollar-per-gigabyte threshold.

To get a better sense of the SSD picture, we've analyzed a mountain of pricing information dating from early 2011 to Tuesday. The folks at Camelegg graciously provided the data, which we've sliced, diced, and compiled in pretty graphs. Camelegg tracks prices at Newegg, which should give us a good sense of what's going on in the overall market.

Originally, I had hoped to combine a stack of SSDs in one massive graph. Turns out that was completely unreadable. With most drive makers competing aggressively on price, there was far too much overlap. Instead, we'll tackle the most popular drives one by one. To make comparisons a little easier, all of the graphs stick to the same scale. The selection has been limited to include only the SSDs we've reviewed. In most cases, we've looked at the price of three capacities.

We'll start with the longest-tenured of the bunch, the Intel 510 Series. This drive is currently out of stock and unlikely to return, but it's an interesting anomaly. The 510 Series' price stayed relatively consistent through most of 2011, and it was never cheap. I suspect the price cuts that hit earlier this year were a bid to clear inventory rather than chase competitors.

Intel's 320 Series SSDs have also largely held the line. These drives have been with us for well over a year, and they're still relatively expensive per gig. Since the 320 Series uses Intel's own controller, it's an exclusive affair.

The same can't be said for the Intel 520 Series, which uses the same SandForce SF-2281 controller as seemingly everyone else in the industry. This replacement for the 510 Series was supposed to maintain its predecessor's premium price, but that didn't last. The 240GB model fell off a cliff within the first month of availability, no doubt in response to the aggressive price war being waged by other SandForce partners. Here's what I'm talking about:

Apart from some firmware differences, the Corsair Force GT and OCZ Vertex 3 are largely identical to the Intel 520 Series. They've been around for much longer than the Intel drive, and their prices have been falling steadily. These Force Series GT models have been discounted by 49-55% since their debut. The Vertex 3s have dropped in price by even greater margins: 56-73%.

The 520 Series, Force Series GT, Vertex 3 all pair the SandForce controller with synchronous NAND. Less expensive asynchronous configurations have also proven popular, and they follow a similar pricing trend.

Over the past year, the prices of the async Force Series 3 and Agility 3 have plummeted. The Agility 3 has been around for longer and had farther to fall; it's down around 60% from this time last year. The Force Series 3's price has been slashed 38-54% over a shorter time span, with the 60GB model dropping the least.

Crucial's m4 has been with us for more than a year, and it follows a familiar pattern. The drive is down 57-64% from its peak in 2011.

The OCZ Octane uses the same Marvell controller as the m4, but it hit the market much later. Even though OCZ wasn't too ambitious with the Octane's initial price, the drive costs a lot less now than it did at launch. In about six months, the price of the 128GB model has fallen 40%.

Another late arrival to the next-gen party was Samsung's 830 Series. This is our favorite SSD right now, and it's followed the same trend as the others. Prices change frequently, and they keep on falling.

Let's put a number on that trend. For the data we've collected, the average price drop is 46%. And that includes the SSDs Intel has been so loathe to discount.

Have time for another graph? Last one, I promise. Here's a look at the average cost per gigabyte of each SSD over the last week in our data set. The Intel 510 Series has been omitted because it's effectively been replaced by the 520 Series.

Just look at all those drives under a dollar per gig. The higher-capacity models offer the best value in virtually every family. Although the 40-64GB variants don't look quite so good on this scale, they have asking prices under 100 bucks.

Tags: Storage

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