Every PC user loves an SSD. They’re fast, power hungry, small, and don’t make any noise. However, due to its density and $/GB advantages, solid hard drives aren’t going anywhere for at least the next few years. As it turns out, these aren’t the only advantages of HDDs. The life cycle carbon footprint of the hard drive is also likely to be lower.
according to a study (opens in new tab) Conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of British Columbia (via Tom’s Hardware (opens in new tab)), SSD manufacturing is a fairly intensive process. NAND flash, controller chips and all advanced components are expensive, as are the energy requirements to produce them.
This is because many components are very advanced – not just the manufacture of the drive itself, but also all the basic equipment, raw materials and chemicals.
In fact, SSDs have such a large carbon footprint that they reportedly have the largest carbon footprint of any other PC component to date, at 38% of a typical PC, followed by motherboards at 17% and CPUs at just 4% . Inspiring stuff.
The researchers further attempted to measure the carbon footprint of SSDs and HDDs in general use. They concluded that a 1TB HDD emits 99 kg of CO2 over five years and 199 kg over 10 years. This compares to 184 kg and 369 kg for the 1TB SSD, respectively. It’s hard to say how an SSD loses this battle, as it will have a much lower idle power draw and its burst duration will be much shorter. However, durability and replacement costs may be factored into the SSD. Controlled testing is certainly beneficial.
So while it makes sense that SSDs have a high carbon footprint due to their advanced features, the overall impact of the components that make up our PCs requires more research. From manufacturing to the life cycle of a product, the entire industry can focus on energy efficiency. Clean and green technologies and production methods are not only desirable from an environmental point of view, they can also be an important part of product marketing.
SSDs aren’t going anywhere. If anything, they will continue to take away market share from HDDs. Personally, I’ve never even considered the environmental impact of SSDs vs HDDs. If nothing else, the study points to the need to continue driving the development of renewable energy technologies. Reducing carbon emissions is something we should all be left behind.