What it is: Flash memory can store data without the problems of spinning platters of old fashion, mechanical hard disks.
There’s a reason why Apple has abandoned traditional, mechanical hard disks. That’s because mechanical hard disks are slow and prone to mechanical failure. Yet mechanical hard drives are often much cheaper while offering more storage for your money.
That’s about to change. Flash memory can retain data without power and has no mechanical parts so it’s much faster and reliable than mechanical hard drives. If you ever boot up an older MacBook Pro using a mechanical hard drive and compare it to the boot up time of a newer MacBook that uses flash memory, you’ll instantly see the difference in speed, even though an older MacBook Pro may have a faster and more powerful processor.
During a presentation at the 2016 IEEE International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, Micron showed that NAND flash has moved past HDDs in areal density. Micron revealed it had demonstrated areal densities in its laboratories of up to 2.77Tbpsi for its 3D NAND. That compares with the densest HDDs of about 1.3Tbpsi.
Essentially this means that while still more expensive, flash memory can store more data. Eventually as more people rely on flash memory, the cost will plummet even faster. Traditional hard drives will be fine for a while until the cost of flash memory rivals mechanical hard drives. We won’t even have to wait for flash memory to equal traditional hard drives because as soon as flash memory prices get close to traditional hard drives, the speed and reliability advantage of flash memory will be more than enough to convince manufacturers and customers to adopt flash memory instead.
Anyone remember when PCs relied on 5.25-inch floppy disks for storage? Then everyone switched to 3.5-inch floppy disks. Then Iomega’s ZIP drives (holding a whopping 100Mb per disk) were temporarily all the rage. Finally hard drives came down in price and increased in size from 10Mb to 20Mb to several gigabytes until it’s common to find computers with one terabyte of storage.
Each time storage capacities kept increasing while costs kept dropping. Eventually it wasn’t cost effective to use floppy disks any more. The same pattern will strike traditional hard drives as well, so watch for flash memory to take over the computer market. You probably already use flash memory in your smartphone and tablet, and maybe your laptop as well. One day your desktop computer will have flash memory too, and then traditional, mechanical hard drives will join the ranks of 3.5-inch floppy disks on the dustbins of technology’s trash heap.