Hard Drives – Who Sells More: Seagate, Hitachi or Western Digital?

by RulesOfTom

Ever wonder which hard drive manufacturer is top dog? Over the last couple of decades the hard disk drive industry has both grown and shrunk simultaneously. The number of manufacturers that can afford to stay in the game has shrunk and they margins they operate on are also considerably thinner even while they continue to expand their empires both in traditional disk drives for computers and hard drives as portable storage for music players and external short-term archival devices.

The latest figures from iSuppli reflect this dichotomy – the handful of world-class hard disk drive manufacturers have never been bigger or spread their reach more widely.

There are now just five companies responsible for the vast bulk of hard drives coming into the world:

  • Seagate
  • Western Digital
  • Toshiba
  • Hitachi GST
  • Toshiba/Fujitsu

Every one of them a great and established name, and each of them in the past responsible for gobbling up smaller competitors. The once mighty Maxtor is now completely subsumed by Seagate, while Big Blue (IBM) drives are now purely Hitachi, having once been shoulder-to-shoulder buddies.

So who rules the hard drive roost?

Depends how you market it of course!

Taking Q2 2011 figures (see pie-chart below) Western Digital shipped the most drives, accounting for 32% of the 167 million hard disk drives shipped in that period.

But Seagate have a claim to being number one by virtue of generating the highest revenue in that same time period.

Hard Drive Manufacturers

Hard Drive Manufacturers Output Q2 2011

So take your pick – either way, the upshot is that between them these two companies make two thirds of all new hard drives (and yup, we see plenty of both, in rough accordance with their market share).

The good news for those of us in the hard drive industry is that the figures for Q2 show a growth of 4.1 per cent from Q1 2011. The hard disk drive market is a long way from being killed off.

The closeness in market share for Western Digital and Seagate emphasises the cut-throat nature of competition between the hard drive manufacturers – no one can afford to hesitate and there is no holding back. All it takes is one major break-through for one allied to a major recall by the other for the order to shift permanently. All sides work flat out to attempt to be the last hard drive manufacturer standing.
Taking the punter’s point of view, all of this leads to faster, more capacious hard drives with better interfaces and more reliability (maybe). There is always the question mark of longevity given the constant pressure on releasing innovative ideas, but that is the gap that we fill.

The hard drive market is a fascinating one with the runners up not far behind (Hitachi GST at 16%, Toshiba/Fujitsu at 11% and Samsung at 10%). None of those major companies are laggards and none of them are settling for a place.

What you might not know is that all the manufacturers outsource various parts of their hard drives, that for instance, certain companies in Thailand manufacture motor components for every single one of the top-5. But that is for a later post.

Right now, just remember that the hard disk drive market is in rude health, with the likes of Western Digital selling more drives this quarter than any quarter in their history, with a revenue of US$2.4 billion.

But these figures slightly mask the thin margins: only 6-7% for the top-dogs.

It’s a tense market as we wait to see who blinks first.

Who will be the next hard drive manufacturer to suffer a recall or a natural disaster affecting a major supplier?

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