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November 22, 2005
Don't bury the hard drive just yet
With all the ruckus about the rise of NAND flash as a storage medium in recent days, you'd think the good old hard drive was as cooked as a Thanksgiving turkey. But not so fast, says Komag Inc. CEO Thian Hoo Tan, who I spoke with today. He'd asked his press staffers to set up the interview, so he could vent his frustration. “Everything that your readers have been hearing about the demise of the hard disc drive should be qualified. All that's happening is that the 1-inch and the 1.8-inch hard drives are facing some competition.”
Komag makes the thin-film discs inside hard drives, so Tan has a definite bias. But he makes an excellent case. Sure, flash has reached capacities that make it the right choice for some small gizmos, such as Apple's iPod nano. But what about the vast explosion of data in our lives--the ever-rising tide of e-mail, digital pictures and song downloads? And then there's a video--particularly high-definition video. There's a reason drive-makers such as Seagate and Maxtor sell 500 gigabyte drives, and why they'll soon be selling 800 gigabyte drives, he says. That's nearly a terabyte, in a single drive!
Of course, nobody is suggesting flash will ever displace the disc drive in your PC, PVR or high-definition TV. But even small devices won't be drive-less, especially if they're designed for capturing high-def programming. Also, hard drives take less time to access data than flash, making them better for storing fast-moving computer games or for storing streamed video--say, a movie-on-demand.
Which brings up another possibility: hybrid-devices, that have both flash and a 1-inch hard drive. A year from now, maybe we'll be buying devices that have, say, six gig of flash memory for storing our music collection and such files, along with a 10-plus gigabyte hard-drive for games, movies and the like.
By the way, Tan's message isn't exactly going unheard these days. While we in the press may be fixated on flash, Komag's stock rose almost 7% today to $33.35, and is up 33% since Oct. 27.
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The future is clear. The current explosive demand for hard disks is driven PVR or high-definition TV. Only portions of USA and part of Europe’s population have these devices, thus there is a big world out there which will need to buy these devices. And these hard disks can use up to 5 disks (thin film media) each. These high graphical usage and thus high activity hard disks will not last long. So demand will continue to be high for some time.
2) A bit further into the future, memory will still be the king when fibers increase bandwidths increase to up to 11,000 times faster than 56K dial up modems. This will trigger a revolution in how we live because only at such transmission speeds will computers be truly user friendly. Every singly household will then see computers as a necessity. The computer could be in their front hall and operated out of their TVs. All purchasing will be done on computers – say you want to buy a pen, you can compare it with all other pens and even move it around in 3D. On the side you can see the other pens in the market and make a better decision. No more need to go to Supermarkets. When you finally buy the pen, it will be sent directly from the factory to your home FOC, because all middle-men’s markup will be gone. Disk per hard disks will taper off as people rather store their movies and information in external storage on their super bandwidth fibers.
3) But by that time more and more devices we commonly use at home and offices will be software driven which require still more memory. For example, we can now see our photocopiers having hard disks. Pretty soon it will end up in our washing machines and our cars.
In conclusion as long as hard disks gives the cheapest bytes / $ there will be no competition.
Posted by: Prashobh Karunakaran at November 28, 2005 08:41 PM