If you’ve been planning a new SSD purchase, it might be best to hold off for a while. There are signs that the market could be headed for a significant downturn, with some experts predicting NAND prices could collapse as low as $0.08 per GB during 2019. That would put NAND flash within striking distance of HDD pricing — certainly far closer than the two have come before.
The collapse, if it occurs, would be driven by several factors. First, manufacturers have been investing heavily in NAND flash production, with new factories coming online around the world. Demand for NAND has been robust over the past decade and continues to grow; The Register notes that analysts expect the amount of NAND flash shipped in 2018 to grow by 45 percent this year compared to last. The actual gap between spinning media prices and NAND prices has remained fairly constant, with both decreasing in price over time.
There are several imminent changes to the NAND market that could send prices cratering. First, there’s a great deal of capacity coming online soon, with Intel doubling capacity at its 3D NAND plant in Dalian China by the end of the year, while Samsung increases its own output at existing facilities. SK Hynix has new foundries set to come online by 2020 and is expanding its existing manufacturing space. Toshiba is building a new fab in Kitakami, China’s Tsingshua Unigroup and other memory manufacturers are ramping up their own production and China is aggressively investing in local companies to boost overall domestic production.
Next, there’s the advent of QLC. Packing another bit of data into NAND flash means that the same physical cell of memory can hold more data, which means less NAND is needed to build drives of an equivalent size. QLC drives still need to prove themselves in the consumer market, but as shipments ramp up they represent an intrinsic 1.33x improvement in storage density for the same number of memory cells.
Finally, we’ve seen a fairly rapid cadence of density improvements in 3D NAND. With 3D NAND accounting for 70 percent of manufactured NAND these days, according to The Reg, capacity improvements gained by stepping up to 96-layer NAND also represent an improvement in total manufacturing capability.
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