One of the things I monitor regularly is the cost of purchasing hard drives, flash drives and other methods of backing up my computer data. As technology advances in the area of data storage, the incremental cost of backing up the data or information on your computer's internal hard drive has dropped precipitously. As CDs and DVDs have fallen in favor as a reliable data storage medium, hard drives continue as the cheapest and most reliable choice. But flash memory in the form of flash drives and larger flash storage devices are rapidly becoming a viable option depending on the total amount of storage needed.
It is not that long ago that storage was measured in Megabytes not Gigabytes. Now, the standard has moved to TeraByte hard drives. A Terabyte (TB) is 1000 Gigabytes. Not long ago, 1 TB hard drive was expensive and uncommon. Now, they are the mainstay of the hard drive market. But recently, the 3 TB hard drive has become the "best deal." Current prices for a 1 TB hard drive run around $80 to $90, but a 3 TB hard drive can be purchased for around $120. Three times the capacity for about a 50% increase in price.
We are going through the now, very familiar technology cycle where a product is expensive and hard to find, becomes common, the price drops and then it is replaced by another product even faster, larger, smaller or whatever. Looking ahead, 4 TB hard drives are already on the market and their price is falling fast. Right now they are about $179 online but have yet to show up in the mass merchandise market such as Walmart and Costco. So, the 3 TB hard drives run about $40 a TB and the 4 TB hard drives are a little more expensive at $45 a TB. But they are both much less expensive per TB than the 1 TB hard drives. What we are seeing here is the cost of manufacture, packaging and distribution are pretty much a constant. As the demand for the larger drives continues, the price will come down to those somewhat fixed costs.
There are even larger hard drives on the market. However, a 6 TB hard drive (they skip 5 TB hard drives) runs about $390 or so. Not yet in the price sink hole of technology. At that level, there are several RAID offerings (usually 3 - 2 TB hard drives hooked together) for about the same price. Additionally, the 6 TB hard drives are fairly large and heavy compared to the 3 and 4 TB drives.
The next higher level of storage is measured in Petabytes or 1000 Terabytes. But because of market forces and the ever advancing technology, we are unlikely to see spinning media hard drives get too much larger, ever.
But the next level is already under development and we can already see the end of spinning media hard drives in the not-too-distant future. What is next? Flash memory drives. Not just little flash drives, but the kind of flash memory drives now being sold at a premium with laptops and most tablet computers. This type of memory has no moving parts, is more reliable than hard drives and less likely to get damaged from external causes. But right now, it is expensive.
The largest commonly available flash memory drive is topping out right now at about 256 GB and the price is about $130 or so. There are larger drives available but a 480 GB drive is running about $400. 1 TB flash drives have been announced by some manufacturers and as they become available and the price comes way down, they will inevitably replace spinning media hard drives which will then go the way of floppy disks and CDs for storage.
How does all that compare to using an online service to store your data? Well, if you wanted to store 3 TB of data online, you will find that online storage is competitive to very expensive depending on the supplier. But that is another story for another time. I do not recommend relying solely on online storage for the same reasons I don't recommend relying solely on any one type of storage. I use multiple hard drives at multiple locations.