Optical: On the way out?
Gartner analyst John Monroe describes CD/DVD/Blu-ray as "the cockroach of the industry." Nobody really wants the technology. Nobody is really satisfied with it. But you can't get rid of optical because it's still by far the cheapest removable media available. That said, according to a DigiTimes.com report, Robert Wong, chairman of Taiwan's largest optical disc maker, CMC Magnetics, warned that optical media prices will jump by 50 percent in the second half of 2013 due to plant closures in 2012 and an industry reshuffling. Higher prices could very well hasten the format’s decline.
Moving forward, consumers will deal with optical media primarily as a physical delivery system for entertainment and software, and occasionally as emergency boot media. Most PCs still ship with optical drives, but increasingly these drives will be offered only as external USB options.
Though the industry appears stagnant, new optical technologies are still being developed. FujiFilm, for one, recently announced a 1TB disc to ship in 2015 (no pricing was available). TDK has also been showing a similar technology. If shipped with affordable media (it's supposedly easier to produce than Blu-ray), 1TB optical could keep the unloved, unwanted, but still undeniably handy optical disc around for the next decade or so.
Meanwhile, Blu-ray continues to be offered on PCs, and remains a convenient way to share maximum quality, high-definition movie content. BDXL for write-once discs is currently at 128GB of capacity. However, its drives need to become more prevalent and media needs to drop in price for BDXL to gain traction. That said, 4K video, the big trend at the 2013 CES, could give BDXL new life—and give Blu-ray new life as a whole—if the Blu-ray Disc Association adds 4K support to the format.
With current SSDs bumping up against the limits of even SATA 6Gbps (as it's usually referred to), something will have to give in the near future. But the SATA III bus will remain in play for at least several more years, because it's more than adequate for hard drives, which will dominate the landscape through 2020.
Several new external interface buses have the performance chops to make inroads in 2013.
Thunderbolt (nee Light Peak) from Apple and Intel already ships on newer Macs and a relatively few cutting-edge PC motherboards. It's basically an external version of PCI Express with a whopping 10Gbps transfer rate. For high-performance backup and external storage—particularly when there’s an array of drives in play—Thunderbolt should eventually supplant the slower eSATA and USB 3.0. However, USB will certainly remain as a peripheral and flash drive bus.
SATA Express (SATA 3.2)—an internal storage bus that uses the SATA software and protocol layer over the physical PCIe bus and connectors—is also on the horizon. Intended for internal SSDs, it supports current legacy and SATA/AHCI, as well as an NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) mode. NVMe is an interface spec designed for SSDs. Theoretically, SATA Express's throughput is limited only by the bandwidth of the PCIe bus. With PCIe 2.0 that's 5 gigatransfers per second, and with the PCIe 3.0 found on newer Intel chipsets, that's 8 gigatransfers.
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