The hard disk drive supply chain was hit hard late last year when a series of floods struck Thailand. The Asian country accounts for about a quarter of the world's hard drive production, but thousands of factories had to close shop for weeks as facilities were under water, in what is considered the world's fourth costliest natural disaster according to World Bank estimates. That's on top of the human cost of over 800 lives.

Western Digital and Toshiba had factories in the flood zones whereas Seagate was mainly affected by the resulting supply constraints from business partners who were forced to halt production of related components. Among those was Nidec, which produces ~70% of the world's hard drive spindle motors.

All this resulted in hard drive prices shooting through the roof around the end of October as production became more expensive and limited. With the help of price tracking site Camelegg we've checked on a number of mobile and desktop HDDs to get a better overview of how the situation has developed in the last three months.

We observed the first uptick at the end of October, reaching its peak in the first week of November with price increases in the 80-190% range for desktop drives and 80-150% for mobile units. Although we're beginning to see price reductions across the board, on average drives are still about 60-90% more expensive than they were before the flooding.

The graphs below show prices from Newegg from mid-September 2011 until February 1 2012.

Desktop hard drive prices
  Before Peak Current Price Increase
% (before vs. current)
Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB $179.99 $429.99 $429.99 138.90%
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB $129.99 $329.99 $239.99 84.62%
Seagate Barracuda Green 2TB $79.99 $229.99 $129.99 62.51%
Western Digital Caviar Black 2TB $139.99 $279.99 $249.99 78.58%
Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB $134.99 $299.99 $219.99 62.97%
Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB $78.99 $229.99 $129.99 64.57%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 3TB $179.99 $399.99 $329.99 83.34%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 2TB $109.99 $299.99 $219.99 100.01%

Some drives appear to have been more severely impacted than others. For example, the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB is currently priced at $429.99, a 138% increase over its pre-flood price of $179.99. The Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 is selling for double the price at the beginning of October. Let's check out similar data for mobile oriented hard drives.

Notebook hard drive prices
  Before Peak Current Price Increase
% (before vs. current)
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB $99.99 $159.99 $149.99 50.01%
Seagate Momentus XT 320GB $94.99 $149.99 $149.99 57.90%
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB $134.99 $239.99 $199.99 48.15%
Western Digital Scorpio Black 750GB $89.99 $229.99 $229.99 155.57%
Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB $69.99 $149.99 $139.99 100.01%
Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB $54.99 $129.99 $99.99 81.83%
Samsung Spinpoint M8 1TB $89.99 $219.99 $114.99 27.78%
Samsung Spinpoint M8 750GB $59.99 $114.99 $114.99 91.68%
Samsung Spinpoint M8 500GB $49.99 $129.99 $89.99 80.02%

On the mobile side of things the Western Digital Scorpio Black 75GB and 500GB are marked up as of today by 155% and 100%, respectively. While announcing its quarterly results earlier this week, Seagate acknowledged that hard drive shortages will most likely continue throughout the calendar year of 2012, with supply trailing demand by about 150 million units by the end of 2012. Western Digital seconded this while saying that manufacturing in their Thailand facilities will be running at full capacity in the September quarter.

Interestingly, while Western Digital saw its earnings fall nearly 36% to $145 million compared to the same period a year ago, Seagate actually grew net profits from $150 million to $563 million in the same time frame. The company says it has struck long-term agreements with several customers to lock down pricing, with some deals running multiple years to ensure continuity of HDD supply. This has worked wonderfully for them but unfortunately for end-users it's unlikely prices will return to pre-flood levels as long as the shortage is ongoing.

Effects felt across the tech industry
  • PC shipments in 2012 impacted by flooding in Thailand
    According to iSuppli, the shortfall in Q1 will be about 3.8 million PCs, while global PC shipments for the whole year are expected to expand by only 6.8% in 2012, down from the previous outlook of 9.5%.
  • Nvidia and AMD blame hard drive shortages for poor GPU sales
    Both firms were indirectly affected by the hard drive shortages. Namely, due to decreased PC production, but also because some OEMs dropped discrete GPUs in their systems due to high HDD prices.
  • Intel cuts Q4 sales outlook by $1 billion due to hard drive shortages
    Intel lowered its revenue forecast in December, anticipating a drop due to hard drive shortages caused by the flooding in Thailand. It was able to beat its own estimates but still saw a drop compared to Q3.
  • Sony, Sharp, Panasonic announce substancial losses
    Even though it certainly wasn't the only factor affecting their business this year, TV manufacturers placed part of the blame for their poor sales performance on the impact the floods had in the supply chain.
  • Gartner says the worst is yet to come
    The hard drive shortage had a limited impact on fourth quarter PC shipments and prices – we checked a few random PCs on Newegg and didn't see any noticeable effects. However, Gartner warns that the major impact will be felt in the first half of this year and potentially continue through the year.

Header image from Shutterstock.