Hard drive prices one year after the flood

More than a year has passed since massive floods ravaged Thailand. The deluge put entire industrial parks underwater, including those responsible for manufacturing most of the mechanical hard drives sold worldwide. Production stalled as drive makers and their suppliers began the daunting task of mopping up the damage. Hard drive prices rose sharply in response, ending years of steady decline.

We’ve been watching their slow migration toward pre-flood prices ever since.

Now, one year later, the industry seems to have recovered. Market analysts project more hard drives will ship this year than in 2011, suggesting production is back in full swing. To determine whether prices have experienced a similar recovery, we once again called on the helpful folks at Camelegg. They provided us with a treasure trove of data detailing the day-to-day price changes of over 30 mechanical hard drives. Camelegg tracks prices at Newegg and doesn’t include mail-in rebates or special coupon codes, so the data should be a good indicator of what’s going on in the broader market.

First, let’s look at how current prices measure up to their pre-flood levels. The graph below illustrates the changes in price from the first week of October 2011, just before the flood, to the past seven days. We used the mean price over each seven-day period to prevent outliers from tainting the results.

Only a quarter of the drives we’re tracking cost less now than they did before the flooding. A couple have come full circle, but the vast majority have higher prices.

Look at the results more closely, and you’ll see that all the drives that have returned to or dropped below pre-flood levels are 2.5″ notebook models. Each and every one of the 3.5″ desktop drives we’re tracking is more expensive now than it was in early October of last year. We’re not talking about differences of a few percentage points, either. On average, the desktop drives cost 35% more than they did a little more than a year ago. Compare that to an average price drop of 5% for the notebook drives.

While there are clear differences between the notebook and desktop drives, no single manufacturer seems to be better or worse than the next. There isn’t a definitive trend on the capacity front, either, although it’s worth noting that the 500GB desktop drives have suffered some of the highest price increases.

Let’s break down the drives by manufacturer to get a more detailed look at the data. You can click the buttons below the graphs to switch between drive families. We’ll start with 3.5″ desktop drives.

Switching between the various drive families nicely illustrates the rise in prices in late October of last year. Although prices have declined since their peak, it hasn’t been an uninterrupted fall in all cases. A handful of Western Digital’s drives increased in price for sustained periods well after the flooding. For the most part, prices haven’t budged in the past few months.

A number of Seagate’s Barracuda desktop drives didn’t hit the market until after the flooding, so they had to sit out our pre-flood comparison. Even those newer models weren’t able to escape high post-flood prices, though. While the 7,200-RPM Barracuda lineup has maintained largely consistent pricing over the last little while, the low-power Barracuda Green family has benefited from recent discounts.

Newegg’s selection of desktop drives from Hitachi and Samsung has dwindled since those firms sold their HDD businesses to Western Digital and Seagate, respectively. That leaves us with only a handful of drives for analysis, and the picture is a little mixed. Samsung’s low-power EcoGreen F4 has gotten more expensive recently, but the 7,200-RPM Spinpoint F3 has largely held the line since its last sustained price reduction. Meanwhile, both of the Hitachi Deskstars we’re monitoring continue their slow decline.

Now, let’s switch gears and look at the 2.5″ notebook drives. The scale of the Y-axis is different for these graphs, since notebook drives tend to cost less overall.

Western Digital’s Scorpios received hefty cuts in the spring, and prices have trickled down since. Only the 500GB models have failed to drop below pre-flood levels.

The Momentus XT 750GB hybrid wasn’t introduced until after the flooding, and its price has dropped steadily. That drive’s predecessor, the 500GB XT, dipped below its pre-flood price this summer and has largely stayed under that threshold. The purely mechanical Momentus line has seen fewer price changes overall.

The price of Toshiba’s MK5061GSYN rose recently, but the MK5076GSX has returned to its pre-flood level. Don’t you just love cryptic model numbers? The Spinpoint and Travelstars have all returned to last year’s prices or dropped below them.

Last graph, I promise. Storage devices are often quantified in terms of their cost per gigabyte, so we’ve run the numbers for all the drives we’re tracking.

The notebook drives cost more per gig than their desktop counterparts, which is to be expected. Only a couple of them slip below 10 cents per gigabyte.

Low-power drives like the Barracuda Green and Caviar Green dominate the top of the chart, with per-gigabyte costs around five cents. Seagate’s 7,200-RPM Barracudas aren’t far behind, though, and the Deskstar 7K4000 4TB is only 7 cents/GB. With SSDs still running more than about 70 cents/GB, it’s easy to see why mechanical storage still has a place in today’s PCs.

Geoff Gasior

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