Hard Drive Survey

First, thanks to all for participating.

We basically found four types of people.

“I Got A Lot of Drives And I Use Them” These folks tend to have multiple hard drives and tons of space. They have all this space because they need it to do something. Usually, it’s media editing, sometimes music, more often video.

These folks can’t get enough: the bigger, the better.

“I’m A Bit Magnet” These are the Internet junkies. They’ll grab lots of stuff. However, they tend not to have megacapacities, unless they’re heavily into video. You don’t normally see 300Gb junkies out there.

“I Outgrew My Initial Drive” These folks started out small, filled up the old drive, then got themselves a new second one, which depending on their habits, was or was not filling up fast.

“Empty Nest” These are folks who have a relatively recent, relatively large hard drive, haven’t come close to filling it, and don’t really expect to. While a minority among our audience, they were a pretty sizable one, one much bigger than I would have thought.

I found the real dividing line between the big guys and the little ones can be expressed in one word: video. If someone was big on video, they ate up the gigabytes like they were peanuts. Those who weren’t generally didn’t.

A minor exception to this rule was the MP3ers, but even they generally didn’t have tons and tons of space. They might well have 10Gb of MP3s, but not 100Gb.

To Video Or Not To Video?

The results pretty much showed the big question facing the hard drive industry.

Those in categories one and most of those in category two are prime customers for bigger and bigger hard drives. Those in categories three and four generally are not.

Right now, there’s a good deal more people in categories three and four than in categories one and two.

The big question to the hard drive industry is: Will the folks in categories three and four inevitably migrate to categories one or two, or not?

If they do, business goes on as usual. If they don’t, it won’t.

Eventually, computing will become video-pervasive. If it can be done with video, it will be done with video.

The problem is video is a bit clunky even with broadband nowadays, and the Internet backbone is by no means robust enough to handle universal video any time soon.

Eventually, that problem will be solved with fiber optics, but even an optimist would say that’s at least five years away for just an appreciable number of people, much less most in even the most advanced places.

Unfortunately for the hard drive people; they’ll be ready for the video party long before the Internet is, within a year or two.

This doesn’t seem to be much of a problem now with 20, 27 or 40 Gb hard drive platters, but in two years, when it’s more like 200Gb platters, it’s going to be a different story.

One Size Won’t Fit All Anymore

The outside of a hard drive has barely changed in the last number of years. Take a 1Gb drive from five years ago, and a 160Gb drive today, and they pretty much look, feel and weigh the same.

The hard drive manufacturers have kept the dimensions of the overall package about the small, and just crammed more and more capacity inside it. Up to now, that’s been a good idea, since people have generally been able to use the extra space.

However, those days may be changing. Joe Sixpack is not likely to appreciate buying some mega hard drive that will remain 90% empty no matter what he does. Nor will the corporate bean counters paying for Joe Suit’s computer.

Most importantly, the folks building the computers for the Joes aren’t going to appreciate paying for all that wasted space.

For at least some, the trend is towards smaller, quieter machines. The smaller and quieter the overall machine gets, the bigger, noisier and awkward the current hard drive looks.

Serial ATA will simplify and considerably lessen the rather large amount of real estate hard drive connectors take up nowadays. In a few years, we may see hard drives small enough to be mounted directly into a serial ATA port on the motherboard like a PCI card. That would save a lot of space.

There’s no reason why a smaller hard drive couldn’t be fast, indeed, for seeks, it should be a lot faster simply because the reading head won’t have to move as far.

All these factors put together is going to put a lot of pressure on the hard drive companies to come up with smaller, lighter and most importantly, cheaper hard drives suitable for Joes Sixpack and Suit.

There’s only two counterfactors going against this.

The first, as previously mentioned, is video, but it’s hard to see how Joe Suit is going to move over to a largely video-driven computing world quite that fast, and it’s hard to see how most Joe Sixpacks are going to turn into a video sponge, whether legally or illegally, within a couple years, much less how the Internet backbone is going to let him.

In both cases, they eventually will. Fifteen, twenty years from now, anything less will look primitive, but we’re not talking fifteen-twenty years here. We’re talking two.

The second factor will be the considerable reluctance of the hard drive manufacturers to produce products that will considerably reduce their revenues and profits. Until very recently, if you were going to buy a good entry-level hard drive, it was going to cost you about a hundred dollars. Period. Whatever the entry-level was at the time, that’s what it cost. Try to pay eighty, and if you even find one, it usually was slow and had half the capacity of the good entry-model.

That barrier has been broken. Now you’ll see entry-level, good hard drives going for sixty-seventy dollars. The dam is breaking.

I think within the next two-three years, we’re going to have somebody like a Michael Dell say, “I want ten million little 50Gb serial ATA drives for $25 each next year. Anybody want to give them to me?”

And somebody will.

Either that, or people will have terabyte hard drives to store email.


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