Is Microsoft about to kill off the HDD once and for all?

Hard Drive Close Up
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Microsoft has reportedly ordered PC manufacturers to abandon hard disk drives (HDDs) for solid state drives (SSDs) across all future Windows 11 devices.

The new rule technically applies exclusively to boot drives, on which the operating system runs. But in most cases, these drives are the only form of on-board storage, which means hard drives will effectively be pushed to the fringes of the PC market.

The move is presumably designed to increase the level and consistency of performance across Windows 11 hardware, but Microsoft has made no public statement on the matter. Contacted by our sister site Tom’s Hardware, the company said it had “nothing to share on this topic at this time”.

According to data storage analysts at Trendfocus, Microsoft has given OEMs until the end of 2023 to make the switch.

A death sentence for the HDD?

As advances in manufacturing and flash storage technology continue to drive down the price of SSDs, the discussion around the longevity of the humble HDD is only growing louder.

Historically, hard drives have offered a far greater price-to-capacity ratio, which is the primary consideration for less performance-dependent use cases. But now the cost per GB is beginning to level out across HDDs and SSDs (at least for lower-performance SATA devices), the case for hard drives is less and less compelling.

Currently, Microsoft’s hardware requirements for Windows 11 make no mention of the type of storage device, only minimum capacity. But presumably, the company intends to update these specifications when its new rule comes into effect next year.

The move is already being met with resistance from some quarters, however, with makers of lower-end devices set to incur either a drop-off in device capacity or higher costs (which may be passed on to the buyer).

Effectively, OEMs are effectively caught between a rock and a hard place, Trendfocus explained; manufacturing a device at identical cost would require stepping down from a 1TB HDD to a much smaller 256GB SSD, whereas switching to a larger-capacity SSD would drive prices beyond the budget bracket.

After successfully negotiating to push the deadline for the switch to SSD boot drives to next year, OEMs are reportedly now campaigning for further delays.

In all likelihood, Microsoft's decision will mean that hard drives will remain only in dual-drive PCs that combine an SSD boot drive with an HDD for mass storage, leading to a significant drop-off in overall demand.

Another possibility, as Tom’s Hardware notes, is that the death of the hard drive causes the fall in the price of SSDs to plateau, in the absence of pressure from a viable competitor.

The end result for buyers is a mixed bag, then; devices will benefit from greater levels of performance, but almost certainly at a price.

Via Tom’s Hardware

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.