The post-flood decline of hard drive prices is slowing

A deeper look at the numbers

After chronicling the fall of SSD prices, it's time to turn our attention to the mechanical world. Hard drives used to be dirt cheap, with even multi-terabyte models routinely available for under 100 bucks. Then, last fall, Thailand was hit by massive flooding that swamped numerous industrial parks. Many of the facilities responsible for making hard drives and their component parts were submerged under several feet of water. Overall production slowed, big PC makers reportedly had trouble securing drives for their systems, and prices rose sharply.

Ever since the flooding, we've been waiting for the good old days to return. Indeed, we've been tracking mechanical hard drive prices since the flooding sent them skyward. Now, with a little help from the folks at Camelegg, we have even more data on the state of hard drive prices. Camelegg tracks prices at Newegg, which should be representative of the state of the market as a whole.

There's too much data to combine all the drives in a single graph, so we're going to break things down by manufacturer and model. All of the graphs use the same scale for easy comparison. The data goes back to the beginning of 2011, though a number of the drives haven't been available for that long. We've limited ourselves to tracking only current-generation models that are in stock now.

Samsung is up first, in part because our favorite desktop hard drive is the Spinpoint F3 1TB. There's also a 500GB version of that drive. Both Spinpoints rotate their platters at 7,200 RPM, while the EcoGreen F4 is a low-power model with a 5,400-RPM spindle speed.

Before the November flooding, prices were largely stable for months. The Spinpoint F3 1TB and EcoGreen F4 2TB both shot up after the flooding hit, but the 500GB Spinpoint wasn't affected until February of 2012. That's interesting, especially since its price has yet to decline substantially. The other two have dropped considerably, although they're still priced much higher than they were before the flood. Our favorite Spinpoint's price is more than two times higher.

Samsung's mechanical storage business has been bought by Seagate, and Hitachi's division has been acquired by Western Digital. How have the Deskstars fared?

Similarly. The Deskstar 7K3000 2TB has been around for the longest of the three drives we're looking at, and its price was stable before the flooding, too. The 7K1000.D 1TB arrived just before prices began their climb, while its 500GB sibling didn't come out until well after the flooding exacted its toll.

That 500GB model has only recently received a hefty price cut. The cost of the others has fallen more steadily, though prices have risen on occasion. In fact, the 7K3000 has increased in price twice over the past two months. It now costs 60% more than its pre-flood low, while the 7K1000.D 1TB is priced 54% higher than it was last October.

Seagate has more horses in this race. The low-power Barracuda Greens were around long before the flooding, while their simply named 7,200-RPM counterparts are more recent arrivals. Let's start with the terabyte Green, which stubbornly clung to its peak flooding price until only recently. The 2TB variant has received numerous price cuts since the flooding hit. Its price has remained fairly consistent since March, though.

The standard Barracudas are leveling off, too, but their flat-lining didn't begin until April. Prices had declined steadily until then, for the most part. As with the Samsung and Hitachi drives, anything that was available before the flood costs substantially more today. In some cases, the difference is more than 2X.

Thanks to its premium Caviar Black line, WD has the biggest selction of drives. Almost all of 'em were available before the flooding, giving us a good look at its impact. We'll begin with the low-power Caviar Greens, whose prices have stagnated recently. They're still falling, slowly, but the rate of decline has definitely petered out. The 3TB model costs only 37% more than before the flood, while the 1TB and 2TB versions ring in 52-58% higher.

The Caviar Blue line is targeted at mainstream desktops, and it hold a surprise. The terabyte model peaked in February and March, long after the flood waters had receded. Its price has been slashed since, and like the 500GB model, things have largely leveled off over the last couple of months. The Blues still cost at least 80% more than their pre-flood lows.

The flagship Caviar Black line hasn't been hit quite as hard; it's only 53-60% more expensive now than it was before last November. Interestingly, the 500GB and 2TB models peaked much later—the latter as recently as May. Only the terabyte version has seen its price fall consistently.

If we focus exclusively on drives available before the flooding, current prices are an average of 74% higher than before. That's a huge margin, and it's narrowing more slowly than ever.

Where are the best deals if you absolutely must buy a drive now? Let's consider the cost per gigabyte of each drive using the average price over the last week.

Higher-capacity models clearly offer the most value on this scale. The 3TB and 2TB drives cost the least per gigabyte, while the terabyte models sit in the middle, and the 500GB variants below them. Unless you're really strapped for cash, there's no reason to settle for anything less than a terabyte.

Low-power drives like the Barracuda Green, Caviar Green, and EcoGreen lead the way overall. Seagate's 7,200-RPM Barracuda is right up there with them, although only at its highest capacities.

Tags: Storage

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