Microsoft has ordered PC manufacturers to ditch hard disk drives (HDDs) for solid state drives (SSDs) in all futures 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, meaning hard drives will effectively be pushed to the fringes of the PC market.
The change was supposedly designed to increase the level and consistency of performance on Windows 11 hardware, but Microsoft has not made any public statements on the matter. Contacted by our brother site Tom’s Hardwarethe company said it had “nothing to share on this matter at this time”.
According to data warehouse 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 flash manufacturing and storage technology continue to drive down the price of SSDs, the discussion around the longevity of the humble HDD only increases.
Historically, hard drives offer a much higher price-to-capacity ratio, which is the primary consideration for less performance-dependent use cases. But now the cost per GB is starting to level off on HDDs and SSDs (at least for low-end SATA devices), the case for hard drives is less and less attractive.
Currently, Microsoft’s hardware requirements for Windows 11 do not mention the type of storage device, only the minimum capacity. But presumably, the company intends to update those specs when its new rule goes into effect next year.
The move is already being met with resistance from some quarters, however, with low-cost device manufacturers set to incur a drop in device capacity or higher costs (which may be passed on to the buyer).
Effectively, OEMs are effectively stuck between a rock and a hard place, explained Trendfocus; making a device at an identical cost would require downsizing a 1TB HDD to a much smaller 256GB SSD, while moving to a higher capacity SSD would drive prices beyond the budget range.
After successfully negotiating the deadline for moving to SSD boot drives for next year, OEMs are now campaigning for further delays.
Most likely, Microsoft’s decision will mean that hard drives will only remain on dual-drive PCs that combine an SSD boot drive with an HDD for mass storage, leading to a significant drop in overall demand.
Another possibility, such as Tom’s Hardware notes, is that the death of the hard drive causes the price of SSDs to plummet, in the absence of pressure from a viable competitor.
The end result for buyers is a mixed bag, so; devices will benefit from higher levels of performance, but almost certainly at a price.