Why Aren’t SSDs Popular in New PCs?

Fry's Electronics PC adFor the past decade I have been asked when SSDs will overtake HDDs in the PC market- when will more PCs ship with an SSD than with an HDD?

My usual reply is: “Never!”  I then go on to explain that two factors work against this ever happening.  The first is the fact that SSD prices are unlikely to ever match HDD price per gigabyte, which is the subject of a few posts on The SSD Guy, the most recent appearing HERE.  The second reason is that most PC buyers find SSDs unappealing when they are shopping for a new PC because of the price difference between an SSD and an HDD of the same capacity.

There are six parameters that users consider when purchasing a PC, and they are usually presented in the following order in PC advertisements:

  • Price
  • Brand of PC
  • Processor
  • Memory size
  • HDD capacity
  • Screen size

Look at any ad for a PC and that’s what you will see, in that order.  You can see it in the ad in this post’s graphic (click to enlarge).  This one from Fry’s Electronics is particularly old, dating back to 2010, but today’s PC ads aren’t any different.  I have been using this graphic in my presentations since 2010 to illustrate this point.

The processor used to be selected by its clock speed, but once clock speeds reached their ceiling then branding took over.  This wasn’t an easy conversion – AMD and Intel spent tens of millions of dollars and most of a decade to convince buyers that clock speed was no longer the criterion they should use to choose the processor in their PC.  Consumers were actually trained to look at processor speed up to that point, so it took a lot of effort to undo what these same companies had put in place.

I present these six parameters when explaining why most new PCs don’t sell with SSDs.  The price and HDD capacity bullets act against each other.  There is no “Fast Boot” bullet, or a bullet to show performance.  Performance is implied by processor brand and memory size.

Few purchasers consult (or even understand) the bounty of benchmarks available on the web.  These don’t garner the attention of the countless doctors, accountants, insurance agents, teachers, and other less-technical professionals (and non-professionals) who purchase new PCs.

This is a case where buying patterns may not be rational, but they are certainly strong.

The buyer might compare two systems, both of which retail for $500:  One has a 500GB drive and the other a 128GB drive.  Guess which one looks like a better deal, even though the first has an HDD and the other an SSD?  Alternatively, a consumer may compare two PCs with 500GB and 512GB drives: The first costs $500 and the other $700.  From the casual purchaser’s viewpoint that extra 12GB of storage certainly carries a hefty price adder!  Why not just purchase the 500GB model?

Let’s pretend that SSD makers will decide to do “Whatever it takes” to educate users on the advantages of SSDs to teach them that it is really worthwhile to spend the extra money, or to consider a PC with a lower-capacity SSD instead of one with a higher-capacity HDD.  How much effort would be involved?

Judging from AMD’s and Intel’s campaigns to move the consumer’s focus away from clock speeds I would guess that it would cost tens of millions of dollars and take about a decade to accomplish.

Is this likely to happen?  I highly doubt it!

14 Responses to Why Aren’t SSDs Popular in New PCs?

  • Tim Norris says:

    That’s interesting, but the desktop PC as we know it is changing and tech savvy users will install an SSD as an aftermarket upgrade or as part of a bare bones build. Consumers understand the speed benefits and often at least use a smaller SSD for the OS and applications. Smaller form factor machines are being used as media servers or attached to the TV in the lounge and an SSD is perfect for this as they are much quieter.

    Tablets and laptops previously seen as luxury items are now the norm and those devices exclusively use SSDs.

    Like it or not (and I am not a huge fan) but the cloud is being used for our data storage and the large capacity storage on our home PCs is less necessary than it has been even though HDD prices are low. So PCS with smaller drive capacity are possible and closer to a reality and the HDD is used for data and back up.

    That said – you could well have hit the nail on the head… 🙂

    • Jim Handy says:

      Tim, Thanks for the comment.

      My post was intended to explain why fewer PCs sell with SSDs than with HDDs today. It appears that your comment is saying that this is not the case.

      You do make good arguments in favor of using SSDs, though – they are faster to boot, and quieter, and some people are indeed starting to use the cloud for their storage. We are certainly in a time of change!

      Jim

      • Tim Norris says:

        Hi Jim,

        My reply probably got a little side tracked. You are correct in your observations why PCs don’t sell with SSDs installed.

        Howard’s response below follows on from my consumer point about minimal installations actually being required and in a corporate environment data and files should be stored on a network attached storage (as oppose to the cloud).

        Yes times are a changin’

        Tim

  • Howard Marks says:

    Jim,

    What you write is true for 90% or so of the consumer PC market. The top 10% enthusiasts and gamers aren’t buying the mass market PCs anyway.

    The sad part is that the corporate buyer should know better. A corporate desktop doesn’t need more than 100-150GB of capacity even with locally installed applications because the users should be storing data on the corporate NAS where IT will back it up. The incremental cost for a small 128GB SSD should be an easy choice for better performance and reduced load on the servers.

    – Howard

    • Jim Handy says:

      Howard,

      You are massively correct, but I should hardly even need to say that!

      The corporate world often acts before thinking, responding to users’ demands for high capacities before considering what’s best for the company.

      I have to note that Intel not only “Walks the walk” by putting SSDs into every one of their employees’ PCs, but also by limiting the size of that SSD to 128GB unless the employee makes a very good case for a larger capacity.

      This not only prevents employees from storing songs, photos, and videos on their work computers, but it also streamlines backups. Yes, Intel does do regular backups on their employees’ PCs.

      Intel and SanDisk appear to be paying close attention to this market, targeting the corporate notebook with SSDs that have self encryption (in case one is left behind at airport security) and very low bit error rates. Hopefully they will take the extra step of educating IT managers about why both are important.

      Best,

      Jim

  • Steve Wiley says:

    Jim,
    I believe you left out one very important requirement above. “Reliability”.

    Laptops are often taken on trips, and in my experiences, I have lost two laptop hard drives (non-ssd types) on my past trips. I suspect because of the vibrations and normal expected bounces encountered while on these trips.

    Since I purchased a laptop with SSD storage, I have not experienced any such issues while toting my new laptop around,

    I strongly suspect portable laptops and tablets will need SSD storage just for the better “reliability” experiences while better protecting the stored data from mechanical failure.

    • Jim Handy says:

      Steve, Thanks for the input.

      The parameters I listed weren’t the “important” things to consider when purchasing a PC. They were the parameters that purchasers actually tell us that they use when we ask them about it in our surveys.

      Reliability is very important. As a matter of fact, it’s imperative, but if you were to go to your next door neighbors and ask what parameters they would use to buy a PC, and if you didn’t do any coaching but simply listened, you would not be likely to hear any mention of reliability.

      But then, of course, if the PC they bought was indeed unreliable, I bet you would hear about it endlessly!

      Jim

  • Aaron says:

    Jim.
    SSD definitely targets on high end market for highly performance
    any APP which access DISK will enjoy the performance of SSD both throughput and latency. video maker will tell why they must have a SSD
    another thing is power. spin a disk is a pain for tablet.
    capacity and price once was a big advantage for hdd. while as cloud tech is boosting. the per Giga byte price will be much lower than have a HDD.
    cloud storage’s performance will also be higher than hdd in the near future as they are using nvme ssd with fcoe network

    my opinion is that fancy SSD (flash may not be the only choice, may be another nvm)together with fancy cloud is the future of storage

    • Jim Handy says:

      Aaron,

      Good arguments in favor of converting to SSDs, but so far these arguments haven’t reached the majority of PC buyers, so they are still deciding what to buy the same way they did before SSDs were available.

      As for SSDs based on alternative NVMs, I am certain that this will happen, but not until about a decade from now. Flash is significantly cheaper than anything else, and that’s not going to change for awhile.

      Jim

  • Jerey Archer says:

    Ths ssd is not competing with the bulk drive. The price of small consumer grade ssds (under 250GB) continues to drop, and it makes sense now to pur the os
    on ssd. The system will still feature one or more traditional drives for bulk data storage.
    This is the last easy performance update available to a modern pc.

    • Jim Handy says:

      Jerey, My point is that what makes sense is not always what the consumer chooses to do.

      Someday we will all look back on this period of confusion and laugh!

      Jim

  • Ryan Chappelle says:

    Still holds true almost two years later, despite the arrival of $60 off brand 240gb SSDs. Very good observations!

  • Andrew Fletcher says:

    It is now 2017 and having used a AIO with a 240gb ssd for two years at home, I will never ever buy a computer with a HDD again. It is like comparing a ferrari to a morris minor. I use a computer with a HDD at work, and it is so frustrating with the snail pace 1TB HDD. Plus having to put up with that whirring sound. Also ssd’s nowadays are so cheap, but still most desktops and AIO’s are being sold with the old technology HDD’s. Not for me though as I research for a replacement of my old 23″ Dell AIO, I look for Bezel-less screen AIO or Monitor, 240gb ssd, 8gb/16gb, i7 7th gen, AIO, or Desktop sff tower?. I use my computer mainly for writing books!

    • Jim Handy says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for the input.

      Too bad for SSD makers that more PC customers don’t share your enthusiasm. I think that they just haven’t tried SSDs yet.

      The ramp will continue to be slow!

      Jim

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