It’s Time for Apple to Kill Off the Hard Drive



Picture from EQueue

Friends, Romans, Applefans, I come to bury hard drives, not to praise them. The evil that poor technologies do live after them, and our good files are oft interred with their ashes. So let it be with hard drives.

Look at your MacBook Pro. It’s beautiful, no? Bright screen, thin body, buttonless trackpad, carefully engineered ports, MagSafe power port… it’s a master-work. Except for one thing. It carries a vestigial organ that all-too-often reveals itself to be the ruptured appendix of computing: a hard drive.

Yes, for all of our wonderful computing progress (spaghetti ports to USB; mobile dual-core processors, DDR3 DRAM, insanely fast GPUs), the lowly hard drive continues to exist based off of approximately the same technology it was back in the 1970s. Spinning magnetic platters with read/write heads, saving our entire digital lives in the process.

And while they have many wonderful qualities (massive storage capacity, more so than anything but TAPE; extremely low cost), they also have a fatal flaw, which is that they break and they break hard. Platters get warped, spindles get loose, heads get misaligned, and suddenly your computer stops working and you lose the project you’ve been slaving over for the last few months (see my wife’s recent calamity for evidence and a little solace in the iPhone).

In this day and age, this situation is absolutely unacceptable. The hard drive has long since over-stayed its welcome. Everyone knows that, outside of servers and major video workstations, we’re all going to be on solid state arrays within the next couple of years. The benefits are measurable: the MacBook Air is there now, and it’s spectacular, not only from a design standpoint, but from a reliability and speed standpoint: those things start up nearly instantly.

Or consider the switchover from hard drives to solid state storage in the iPod line. Think back to 2005, the golden era of the fourth-generation iPod, or as I like to call it, “the least reliable product Apple shipped since the Apple ///.” Every one of them died, from what I can tell. Now, you can blame the users who bumped them while they accessed songs or whatever, but the bottom line is that once Apple brought out the iPod nano, the vast majority of quality complaints vanished. Going to solid storage removed all moving parts and made a popular but dodgy product into a rock-solid performer.

It’s high time Apple did the same for the rest of its laptop line-up. The rumors have it that new MacBook Pros should ship in early March, and most of the scuttlebutt has centered on the inclusion of Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors. That’s nice, but the machines won’t be worth buying if they have hard drives inside them. Save your pennies for when Apple becomes the first PC-maker to go all-solid-state for its laptops and later its desktops. The price might go up briefly in the short term (though an entry-level MacBook Pro 13″ with a 256-GB solid state drive for $1299 seems eminently doable with Apple’s current supply chain advantage in flash storage.

After all, a lot of features of the iPhone and iPad have started to migrate “Back to the Mac” since the intro of the new Air and the first demos of OS X Lion. Let’s make the absence of hard drives on iOS the next one to come back, shall we?


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