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ISSUE 17.21.F • 2020-06-01
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The AskWoody Newsletter
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In this issue

HARDWARE: Terabyte update: The hard-drive price advantage

BEST OF THE LOUNGE: Windows10: When all else fails

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

LANGALIST: ‘I hit my laptop ’cause I got angry’

PATCH WATCH: Windows 10 2004 has left the barn

BEST UTILITIES: Freeware Spotlight — Marxio Timer

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INTRODUCTION

In-depth updating info on AskWoody

It’s been a momentous week in Windows land. Microsoft officially released the next version — Win10 2004, officially known as “Windows 10 May 2020 Update.” Pioneers are deep into the first round of beta-testing blues. Offering few new and compelling features, I strongly suggest putting off Win10 2004, while we see what problems crop up.

For older releases of Win10, I’ve just given the go-ahead for installing May’s Windows and Office patches. AskWoody Plus member just received an emailed alert about those updates. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you’ll find the details on AskWoody.com.(Remember, the Plus membership is on the donation model — in other words, you only pay what you feel the information is worth.)

Stay safe out there! — Woody Leonhard


HARDWARE

Terabyte update: The hard-drive price advantage

Will Fastie

By Will Fastie

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have rapidly become the drive of choice for all types of devices, with smartphones and tablets leading the way.

Today’s laptops commonly include an SSD, and an increasing number of desktop PCs are configured with a smallish boot SSD and a larger spinning-platter, hard-disk drive (HDD) for long-term data storage. Given the ongoing changes in storage technology and cost, there’s little doubt that solid-state memory will someday replace mechanical rotating disks.

The only question is … when?

Way back in 2007, I began watching the retail price of terabyte (TB) hard-disk drives. I wanted to know when buying one 1TB drive would be more cost-effective than purchasing two 500GB drives. At that time, 1TB drives and 500GB drives were fairly close on a cents-per-gigabyte basis.

But over the next two years, the cost of both drive sizes nose-dived by around a factor of five. For example, a USD $450 1TB drive dropped to just $90! The price of 500GB drives plummeted, too — down to around $60. It was an astounding change, though the cost-per-gigabyte advantage moved firmly to the bigger drives. Figure 1 shows the details.

Drive cost comparison chart
Figure 1. Between 2007 and 2009, the per-gigabyte cost of a hard drive plummeted.

Years later, SSDs took a similar plunge. In 2011, a 512GB flash memory–based drive was $720 — a costly investment at a time when you could pick up a 1TB HDD for just $140.

When I checked prices again in 2018, things had changed dramatically. At $175, an SSD was well within the average PC user’s price range. Two years later, the price of an SSD had dropped by more than half — to $70, just 14 cents a gigabyte. Nevertheless, at 5 cents/GB, HDDs still retain a significant, though diminishing, cost edge. (That stat doesn’t, however, take into consideration an SSD’s huge advantage in raw speed.) Figure 2 tells the tale.

HDD versus SSD costs
Figure 2. Inexpensive storage based on memory chips is a fairly recent phenomenon. Note that the high cost of 1TB hard drives in 2011 was the result of massive flooding in Thailand.

The listed SSD prices are for the common 2.5-inch drive form factor; the price of M.2/PCIe boards, used mostly in ultraportables, is higher. And the tiny SDHC memory cards are still a comparatively expensive, though extremely convenient, form of storage. DDR3 RAM, used for volatile system memory, is by far the most expensive form of electronic storage, due mostly to its speed. Hybrid drives were a compromise between speed and the high cost of flash memory — more on this technology in a minute.

What does all this mean?

Again, SSDs are still more expensive than HDDs, but they’re also much faster. In new PCs, they’re almost a requirement for good bootup and computing performance. But SSDs are also an attractive and cost-effective way to breathe new life into an older system. (Drive vendors are happy to facilitate that type of upgrade by throwing in free cloning software.)

That doesn’t mean the immediate end of the hard drive, especially when 2TB, 3TB, and larger HDDs are cheap — a 16TB unit is down to an astonishing 2.5 cents/GB. By comparison, a 4TB SSD will set you back around
16 cents/GB ($640). Moreover, the performance of an HDD is more than adequate for storing the 90 percent or so of rarely accessed data on a common PC.

Some basics on drive technology

Just when you think the standard 2.5-inch drive form factor can’t hold any more data, manufacturers somehow manage to deliver higher
capacities — while still keeping prices relatively low. Which means hard drives will likely hold a
size advantage over SSDs for many years to come. (Current flash-memory technology runs into heat and density challenges as capacity grows.)

The drop in hybrid-drive prices is an interesting trend. These devices add a small amount of solid-state memory into a conventional rotating-disk drive. The faster chip-based memory is used primarily as a cache for improving read/write performance. You’d think these more-complicated drives would command higher prices, but they now cost about the same as a standard HDD.

So shouldn’t that make hybrid drives more attractive than HDDs? I think not. At the lower end, consumers will opt to pay slightly more for an SSD in order to gain significantly better speed. At the higher end, enterprises use large RAID devices with build-in caching. These big-data environments are increasingly using hybrid systems — combinations of bare drives and SSD drives. So it’s likely that hybrid drives will eventually become obsolete. (I’ll stop tracking them in future reports.)

For years, digital storage has been defined as primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary storage is all-electronic and connected tightly to the system processor. We usually just call it RAM (random-access memory). Secondary storage is far slower than primary memory but has much greater capacity. Traditionally, it has been magnetic-based; it’s also non-volatile (unlike RAM), meaning it retains data when there’s no power. For over 50 years, this has been the venerable spinning-platter, hard-disk drive. Tertiary storage may be disconnected: magnetic-tape drives, removable drives, and network-attached storage.

I mention this only because the line between primary and secondary storage is becoming a bit blurred as we move from mechanical devices to solid-state systems. For that reason, I expanded my storage investigations to include RAM and flash memory devices such as the ubiquitous SD card (the preferred storage medium for cameras, and removable storage for some phones).

Figure 2 makes it clear that both RAM and SD cards are still more expensive than SSDs — and for good technology reasons. Due to their diminutive size, SD memory chips are, I suspect, more expensive to manufacture than the larger modules used in SSD drives. (The price for an SD card rises rapidly as capacity and speed go up.) SD-card costs are also propped up by intensive demand from the video-creation market — video files are huge and get bigger with every bump in resolution (e.g., HD to 4K).

Again, RAM’s high cost is due primarily to its speed requirements; it must be fast enough to support today’s powerful CPUs and I/O subsystems. While the cost per gigabyte for all other forms of memory is stated in cents, RAM’s is in dollars. That disparity is unlikely to follow the track of drives because of the rising and unending demand for system memory.

Predictions about the future of storage costs are difficult to make right now. The pandemic has had a much more severe impact on the global economy than did the flooding that hit Thailand in 2011. (That event destroyed nearly half the world’s HDD production, inflicting massive supply shortages and a near doubling in drive prices.)

The pandemic may have a political and economic fallout that impacts the drive channel from end to end: materials processing, manufacturing, supply-chain logistics, and end-user demand. But once we’re past this event, expect the downward price trends to resume — with, eventually, SSDs replacing HDDs in most consumer and small-business systems.

This article was adapted from “Terabyte Update,” an irregular feature on Will Fastie’s website.

Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Will Fastie is a Web developer specializing in self-service websites for small businesses. Trained in computer science at Johns Hopkins University, he has held positions as a transaction-processing-systems programmer, magazine editor, newsletter publisher, Wall Street analyst, and CTO.


Best of the Lounge

Windows10: When all else fails

You’ve
undoubtedly heard of those Win7 users who say they’ll never abandon their beloved OS for Windows10. But you’re a bit more open-minded. Having never tried Win10 yourself, you consider installing it on your current Win7 machine in a dual-boot configuration — just to try it. However, after considering the work involved, you opt instead for a new computer with Win10 preinstalled. No muss, no fuss.

Plus member Rhino went down this path — and regretted it. In a Lounge post, Rhino related various frustrations with the newer OS, starting with the basic interface.

So what can you do when, like Rhino, you get so angry, you consider using your new machine as a paperweight? You take a deep breath and apply lots of advice from fellow forum members. Linux, anyone?


Hardware

A loyal Samsung SSD user, Plus member deeppow became disillusioned with the brand after several drives failed prematurely. Deeppow turned to the forum for suggestions on better drives, but fellow Loungers reported only good experiences with Samsung devices. They offered alternative suggestions and observations — including the possibility that counterfeits or factory rejects had found their way to market.


Browsers

Plus member Casey H uses the KeePass password manager when investigating Web browsers such as MS Edge and Firefox. The app had always reliably selected the default browser — until Casey switched to the latest version of Edge. From that point on, KeePass was stuck on Firefox, even though it’s not the default browser. Uninstalling Firefox found the problem: Casey had added KeeForm to enhance filling out browser-based forms. But plug-ins don’t always work as advertised.


Windows 7

Lounger WSMartinM‘s Dell laptop had been humming along quite well for years. But more recently, applications had been taking up to several minutes to launch — if they loaded at all. Fortunately, the apps otherwise ran normally. Posing the problem to the forum started a hunt for a cause and a solution. Turns out the culprit was a rogue program called Wondershare, which WSMartinM didn’t know was on the laptop. The machine is running nicely now, but the search for other “unknown” apps continues.


Office

Plus member lysdexic has an Office 2016 perpetual license but wonders whether Office 365 could be a better choice. Forum members chime in with some pros and cons, along with some MS Office alternatives.


Email

Plus member kempware was looking for the technical differences between POP3 and IMAP protocols, as they related to Outlook. But the answer was not as complicated as kempware imagined. AskWoody members responded with a wealth of information on the two email protocols.


Windows 10

Questions about excessive processor loads can quickly send you down the rabbit hole. Plus member Thomas wondered whether other Loungers had experienced this issue, and he posted a link to a Softpedia News article on the topic. Member den4 put up a red flare and received suggested solutions from others.


If you’re not already a Lounge member, use the quick registration form to sign up for free.

Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
Become an ASKWOODY PLUS member today!

Fred Langa

LANGALIST

‘I hit my laptop ’cause I got angry’

By Fred Langa

Here’s how to check your PC’s health after it’s suffered a physical impact — for any reason!

Windows 10 has four built-in tools you can use to find and fix some impact-related drive errors. But you may need to employ several unfamiliar and even obscure options to use them to best effect.


Susan Bradley

PATCH WATCH

Windows 10 2004 has left the barn

By Susan Bradley

Microsoft’s latest “feature” update is being offered up. Here’s my immediate recommendation: Don’t install it!

No newly released version of Windows has ever been problem-free, and Win10 2004 (aka May release) is no exception. For example, there are already reports of driver issues. As always, we need to give Microsoft time to iron out the wrinkles.


Deanna McElveen

Best Utilities

Freeware Spotlight — Marxio Timer

By Deanna McElveen

Like a fine, vintage wine, some aging but venerable software still works nicely — even on an operating system that wasn’t even imagined back when the app was created.

Marek Mantaj first published the free Marxio Timer way back in 2009, and it’s still an exceptionally useful utility for controlling when and how your computer shuts down, sleeps, and so much more.


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