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Rare Earth Restrictions To Raise Hard Drive Cost

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the economics-have-consequences dept.

China 254

MojoKid writes "Multiple manufacturers in the IT industry have been keeping a wary eye on China's decision to cut back on rare earth exports and the impact it may have on component prices. There have been reports that suggest we'll see that decision hit the hard drive industry this year, with HDD prices trending upwards an estimated 5-10 percent depending on capacity. Although rare earth magnets are only a small part of a hard drive's total cost, China cut exports last year by 40 percent, which drove pricing for these particular components up an estimated 20-30x. China currently controls 97 percent of the rare earth elements market for popular metals like neodymium, cerium, yttrium and ytterbium."

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254 comments

The obvious first question... (4, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149098)

that this article doesn't touch on at all is does this affect Solid State Drives (SSDs)? Probably not because they don't use magnets. So this will just speed up the jump to SSDs. You could be the cynic and think that somehow China decided to raise rare earth prices to drive SSDs, but I kinda doubt that Hard drives in general make up a significant part of that decision.

Re:The obvious first question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149162)

HDD's still make up a decent portion of plain storage drives. I've been looking to get more for my comp and might get one now if prices are going to go up.

Re:My awkwardest first time... (-1, Flamebait)

kdawson (3715) (1344097) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150062)

Ive said this and ill say it again! When I was 14 I went deep sea fishing with my g/f Jody. I was 14 and she was 19. Well it so happened that my dad who was captaining the boat was drinking a lot of beer like 2 packs of 12 and he fell sound asleep. Me and Jody were bored. So we started making out and it was real hot under the sun and we went down into the cabin and made out more. We fell asleep and when I woke up I found her hands on my giant (approx 13 inch) lovemaker. She started to rub it like a genie bottle and that felt really good. Then she took off my pants and tried to get my meat baton in her mouth but kinda choked on it. By that time I was starting to feel REAL good. So I told her to take off her bra and she said "I have to take off my shirt first silly!". So she took off her shirt and bra and rubbed my erect sausage all over her 34DD nicely tanned boobies. At that time I spurted clear stuff all over her and she laughed. This made me brake up in tears because it looked like I wasnt a man enough for her or something and then she started telling me "No thats not what I meant!!" and started making out again. So after another 10 minutes of making out we started getting hard. She took off her pants and told me to lay down. I laid down with my 13" woman pleaser sticking right up and she lowered down on to me till I was fully inserted into her birth canal. So I lasted like 30 seconds and shot like a rocket into her and bodily fluids were gushing everywhere. She looked like she was going to laugh again and I was like Im gonna punch you in the ovaries and she really started laughing then so I pushed her on her belly and rammed my meat roll in and out of her till she SCREAMED "OH RODNEY! OH KEITH! OH RODNEY! YES YES YES!" and then my dad woke up and saw what was going on and told us to finish up. I tried to finish but was too embarrassed. She joked about "DP" but said she was only joking. When I put my clothes back on and went back to the deck my dad told me he arranged a prostitute and she was never my g/f the entire time!

Re:My awkwardest first time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37150108)

Herpes, the gift that keeps on giving...

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149276)

Small fast SSDs complement, but don't replace large slow HDDs.

Re:The obvious first question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149442)

That's the thing, it's bullshit fake shortages to get people to buy into stupid expensive SSD garbage that really isn't that much faster when all is said and done. The overhead and the fact that people generally reinstall their system to put their OS on an SSD when that system before was probably filled with gunk gives people an artificial perception of speed.

Plus the damn things are still at 2001 HDD price/GB levels with no sign of any significant movement to anything close to fair. Probably some scheme to get people to run the latest thin client rehash scam ("cloud computing").

To hell with modern bullshit, garbage technology.

Posting anon because you know someone will take offense and mod me down even though everyone subconsciously knows it's true.

Re:The obvious first question... (5, Insightful)

sortius_nod (1080919) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149514)

actually, you're 100% wrong.

The restrictions are to try to get high tech industry to develop in China. There are no restrictions of use of rare earth metals in China, just the export of the raw materials. It's a good way to ensure high tech manufacturing does develop. Essentially China can hold the world to ransom due their highly developed and underpaid RE mining industry. It's much cheaper to refine RE minerals in China due to lack of industrial relations and environmental laws.

Hell, even Australian RE companies are hesitant to set up refining here due to the massive amounts of radioactive waste from refining RE minerals.

China are even buying up large stakes in Australian RE mining companies just to gain even more of an edge. Chinalco attempted to take over Australia's largest RE miner and was blocked by the ACCC in no small part due to China's stance on RE exports.

Maybe look a bit deeper rather than just looking at company profits. China are all about bringing jobs onshore and having the upper hand globally.

Aside from this, very happy I bought 4x 2GB HDDs recently for my new array, in before the price rise!

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

Kagato (116051) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149836)

Spot on. Hard drive makers have always been keen on keeping the drive suspension (the really precise and expensive part of the head) manufactured in the West. You send that over to China and you can kiss your company goodbye long term. Both US and Australia have plenty of materials to go back into the rare earth business. There may be something to having a strategic stockpile to keep the market stable.

Re:The obvious first question... (2)

Lanteran (1883836) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150026)

Have you ever actually used an SSD? The speed is quite noticeable, coming from a fresh install of arch on a 7200RPM to a SATAII SSD. The reason they cost so much is because flash is a bit harder to scale up than magnetic drives, which can come for pennies on the gigabyte. They also are far less prone to failure than mechanical drives, containing no moving parts. So SSDs are perfect for both embedded systems and smaller systems, and they should be complimented by a TB drive when more space is needed. The only mechanical drives that even come close in speed to SSDs that I know of are 15000RPMs, which are as expensive as hell.

Re:The obvious first question... (3, Interesting)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149558)

5-10% isn't that much. Spinning discs will still be a lot cheaper than even the cheapest SSDs.

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149898)

5-10% isn't that much. Spinning discs will still be a lot cheaper than even the cheapest SSDs.

Yeah, and 4 megabytes of RAM used to cost over $100.

Point is SSDs are still the "blu-ray" of hard drives out there, commanding their own fancy premium. Once they're pretty much commonplace, they'll be on par with traditional spinning platters (especially considering this article pointing out an increase in costs for traditional designs)

Re:The obvious first question... (2)

suso (153703) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149982)

I remember 8MB of RAM costing $300 back in 1996 or so and an article came out in PC Magazine or something called "Why RAM prices won't go down", then a month or two later, they dropped through the floor.

Re:The obvious first question... (4, Informative)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150114)

And about time, too. Prior to that RAM had been expensive forever. 4MB of RAM had been $200 for at least three years before the prices started going down.

Re:The obvious first question... (0, Offtopic)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150028)

They'll never be commonplace. They're just too expensive and difficult to make. The industry plans to transition to something else by the middle of the decade.

Re:The obvious first question... (3, Insightful)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150100)

Point is that we don't know /when/ SSDs are going to reach that magical point, but it'll certainly be after we see the effects of China tightening up the rare-earth supply.

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150128)

Hell I remember when 64K cost a cool $150,000, and you had to build another wing for it. We had a System 3 at the plant to do the payroll. Spent many an evening with my dad feeding punch-cards into the machine.

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150020)

Let's not forget densities are bound to double sometime soon. We've been on 2-3 TB drives for 2 years now, with manufacturers holding back on releasing the latest platter density advances into the market. Once the new tech comes out $/GB (should we use TB now?) will come down significantly, even with a 5-10% premium.

Re:The obvious first question... (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150088)

I expect they're also waiting for UEFI to achieve more market penetration, since plain old BIOSes are limited to 2TB drives on account of the old Master Boot Record's limitations. The 3TB drives are the first iteration to need UEFI and as such are useful for probing what the market will do.

Re:The obvious first question... (2, Interesting)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150000)

There will be no jump to SSDs. The price of entry into the market is too high ($25 billion for a new fabrication plant), and supply is constantly being outstripped by growing demand. Cost of production is also not falling fast enough. The industry expects to transition to a new and more efficient technology by 2014 or 2015, whatever that may be.

A solution. (5, Funny)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149122)

That's okay. With the economy where it is, we can replace the magnets with interns.

Re:A solution. (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149374)

And interns work for free. Their "payment" is in the form of job experience they can put down on their resume'. Don't like it? There's a million others waiting to fill your shoes. The level of intern exploitation is pretty bad.

Of course, you get what you pay for. When a company goes after the intern workforce, chances are the company is already financially unstable.

Re:A solution. (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149888)

I don't know where you got your info from, but we and (IIRC all) others in my industry pay our interns. Way better than H1Bs.

Re:A solution. (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150052)

And interns work for free.

Intern does not mean "work for free". I, and many others, were paid quite well as interns at an automotive factory years ago while in college.

Japanese undersea megadeposit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149138)

http://oilprice.com/Metals/Commodities/Pacific-Ocean-Seabed-Rich-in-Rare-Earth-Minerals.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/gigantic-rare-earth-deposit-found-in-the-pacific-2011-7
+ many other google links, massive quantities were found in the ocean, so there are plenty of other places to get them from.

Too important (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149168)

The rest of the world (read: US) does not have rare earth mineral (which aren't rare at all, actually) mines because China has a long history of simply lowering prices until all competing mines have gone out of business. China considers that having a monopolistic source for rare earths gives them substantial manufacturing advantages for thousands of products, including florescent lights, medical supplies, and disk drives.

IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

no need for guaranteed purchase (1)

Lead Butthead (321013) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149242)

All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

As price rise, it will become profitable enough to reopen the mines in the US again.

Re:no need for guaranteed purchase (1)

petman (619526) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149524)

Mining the stuff is one thing. Where would you send the ores for processing? Or would anyone willing to open rare earth processing plants in the US, considering the environmental issues that comes with disposal of toxic waste generated by such plants?

Re:no need for guaranteed purchase (3, Interesting)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149650)

Isn't there a desolate, almost uninhabited desert in Peru just off the Pacific Ocean?

Aren't they pretty desperate?

Comes down to energy to run desalination to supply the water and political stability. Nice earthquake area so good fun for all, lets build a nuke or four to run the thing. Prove a modern nuke can run through a 8. Nobody but employees/contractors for a hundred miles. Show those Chinese how we do it the American way.

Re:Too important (4, Interesting)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149334)

Right now Hybrid vehicles either use brushless DC or permeant magnet excited AC motors. Both need rare earth magnets and neither are as powerful or efficient for their application as switched reluctance motors which do not use magnets at all. If the electric auto industry was innovative, they would all be using switched reluctance motors and China could eat their rare earth magnets.

My guess is a swamp of patents by Toyota that keep them in the dark ages so they can protect their IP.

Re:Too important (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149916)

I don't want any kind of 'reluctance' motor in my car, switched or otherwise.

When I step on the pedal, I want the damn thing to go, not to complain about the traffic or the pollution or how much weight I've stuffed in the car.

Re:Too important (1)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150040)

The EV industry is far from innovative. Their drive trains are ridiculously inefficient. All they've done is taken out a gas engine and replaced it with a battery. They should be able to achieve twice the mileage from the same battery life as they get now. I don't understand why no one is willing to innovate.

Re:Too important (1)

number11 (129686) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149412)

All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

New mines do not open "overnight". It takes years of development to open a new mine.

If there are old mines that have simply been mothballed, those could probably be restored to production pretty fast.

Re:Too important (1)

Kreigaffe (765218) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149592)

there's mines in the US that have been closed, yes. "fast" is relative; the one major mine i recall hearing about was exploring reopening, and "few years" pops to mind as the timeline for getting it back to production

Re:Too important (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149530)

China is pretty much copying the Wal-Mart model, absorb losses until your competitors go out of business, then jack up the price.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Japanese aren't investing like crazy in mines in the US(and other places). Not only are a lot of their industries dependent upon them, but with the yen being insanely strong right now they would be insane not to take advantage of that and get mining rights on the cheap.

Background on Rare Earth Shortage (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149178)

Two background articles on rare earth shortage:
http://www.tikalon.com/blog/blog.php?article=2011/mass_quantities
http://www.tikalon.com/blog/blog.php?article=RE_shortage

Yet another obvious solution (3, Informative)

xkr (786629) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149186)

The rest of the world (read: US) does not have rare earth mineral (which aren't rare at all, actually) mines because China has a long history of simply lowering prices until all competing mines have gone out of business. China considers that having a monopolistic source for rare earths gives them substantial manufacturing advantages for thousands of products, including florescent lights, medical supplies, and disk drives.

IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149246)

Yes, China acts strategically in China's best interest. If the USA and other nations do not act in their own best interest, then China will become far dominant. That is not a bad thing. May the bet nation win. I think China will be that nation. If your own system cannot compete, then don't bitch: change it so that it CAN compete.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149302)

Yes, China acts strategically in China's best interest. If the USA and other nations do not act in their own best interest, then China will become far dominant. That is not a bad thing. May the bet nation win. I think China will be that nation. If your own system cannot compete, then don't bitch: change it so that it CAN compete.

Incomplete. Nations may evolve in a sense, but they also benefit from world stability and the improvement of their community. The short-term selfish act may not generate the best result in the long term.

Look up Nash Equilibrium.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

Edwin_OS (2427140) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149482)

Incomplete. Nations may evolve in a sense, but they also benefit from world stability and the improvement of their community. The short-term selfish act may not generate the best result in the long term.

Look up Nash Equilibrium.

Ya, just like USA Right?

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149488)

In all fairness, the US of course only ever acts as a rational agent and never falls for the tragedy of commons. I also believe in unicorns, flying pixie dust, and flying unicorns snorting pixie dust.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149570)

China acts strategically in the best interests of their wealthy dictators. The Chinese people are firewood. If China wins it won't be the "bet" nation, it will be the worst nation.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37150142)

The Chinese people are firewood.

All people are "firewood" to their governments. No exceptions.

China exports complete HDs? (2)

drnb (2434720) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149324)

There is another angle to this. Perhaps China will restrict the export of components, such as rare earth magnets, to be used in the manufacture/assembly of HDs in other countries but they will probably not restrict the export of Chinese manufactured/assembled HDs. This may merely be a tactic to force Seagate and WD to move more production to China.

China does not want to manufacture low priced commodities. They want to manufacture high tech finished goods. They will use all forms of pressure to reach this goal.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149332)

All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

No, the market price by itself would support opening or reopening [arstechnica.com] of rare earth mines. What you may need is a waiver from the EPA.

Rare earth mining is problematic because even 'high quality' ore is very dilute. Vast quantities of material have to be processed in order to obtain any product. The primary extractive processes aren't all that polluting. The mines use a combination of physical process (magnetic separation, water separation) to concentrate the material to about 50% purity. Getting it from 50% to pure metal, however, requires quite a bit of energy and the use of a number of toxic processes.

One way to solve this problem is to do the primary extraction at the mine site and then transport the more valuable (and now quite a bit more concentrated) ore to a central site which has the technology and supervision to further extract the material at minimal environmental risk. The US DOE (Dept. of Energy) is looking into these sorts of issues. Of course, China need not be bothered by any of this mamby pamby Greeny stuff, so they have a built in competitive advantage.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149424)

No, the market price by itself would support opening or reopening [arstechnica.com] of rare earth mines. What you may need is a waiver from the EPA.

If you totally ignore everything they say and instead of that you consider only their actions... then the purpose of the EPA is easily known.

The purpose is to make damned certain that the USA never becomes self-sufficient and able to benefit from its own natural resources. Want to drill for oil? Too fucking bad, we won't let you. It's okay for wildlife in the Middle East and Canada and South America to be impacted by drilling, but not wildlife in the USA. Let's be hypocritical bastards!

It's okay for China to mine rare earths and sell them to us but not okay for us to get our own from domestic supplies. Again their wildlife is more expendable than ours. Somehow their wild animals don't feel pain like ours do, or something.

It's okay to pay someone else to harm the environment someplace else. But not okay to pay yourself to do it here. That'd be baaaad.

"Hmm... how can we weaken the nation so all those unlucky unfortunate 3rd-world nations can take us down a peg or two to assuage our white guilt that we feel for being successful and not living in unstable political shitholes? I know! I got it! We'll do it in the name of protecting the environment. I mean fuck, who could be against clean air and drinkable water? No one, that's who. It's the next best thing to protecting the children!"

You want a better USA, eliminate, defund, and fire all employees of the EPA and the federal Department of Education. Then establish a $1 billion bounty for the first commercial thorium nuclear reactor that sells electricity on the open market for 3 years. And end the War on Drugs. And quit trying to be the world's police and never use the military for anything other than defending our own borders, preferably from illegal aliens. If you shoot them on sight you will only have to do it a few times for the rest to stop coming here. Then experience an age of prosperity not known since the 1950s.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (3, Insightful)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149458)

Actually, the exact reverse of what you are claiming will happen.

Everyone else in the world will have tapped out all of their resources and we will be left with ours. We will be left with our Oil and our Rare Earths because the EPA stuck it's nose in. When it matters, WE will be the ones that are self sufficient.

That's what happens when you plan ahead or consider something more than just the moment.

Sure, it's side effect the tree hugger's view of thinking ahead but it works out anyways.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

aztektum (170569) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149864)

That's a much better idea. Let's "drill baby drill!" and pillage the only planet we know of where humans can survive so we can make money and have our fancy gizmos. Fuck later generations and their interest in having a healthy ecosystem in which to live.

If we wanted to truly be better, we'd invest money in new technologies that let us utilize resources w/o having to destroy everything to get at them. It would be difficult, sure, but we sent people to fucking moon just to rub it in the Soviets faces. I would find it difficult to believe we couldn't solve these problems in a responsible fashion. I imagine we would if we had someone like to Soviets around, another giant dick waving contest. Heaven forbid actually leaving the place better off than we found it for the next generation be reason enough.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149476)

While we can discuss where the line is, not wanting to poison the drinking water is not mamby pamby.

Maybe you should look into the condition of drinking water down stream prior to 1970.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149958)

!! sarcasm alert !!

Read it again. I don't think China is doing anyone a favor by trashing their environment for short term profit. The balance between environmental regulation and economic opportunity is a difficult one to maintain, but I for one, am happy to pay a bit more for clean water and happy critters.

My point is that with some forethought and planning, it appears possible to increase the US rare earth mining with acceptable environmental damage by centralizing the secondary refinement process so it can be closely controlled and monitored and perhaps reap some benefits of scale. There was an interesting report on this somewhere, can't recall where I found it and Google and my brain aren't working together as a team this afternoon....

In general, China's current approach to trashing the environment on a huge scale is going to come back and bite them in the ass within a generation. Inscrutable long term planning, indeed.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

spectral7 (2030164) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149360)

IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

Opening new mines or even just re-opening the old mine in Mountain Pass, CA, can't happen "overnight." It will take at least seven years to open a new mine (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10617r.pdf [gao.gov]).

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149386)

All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

Where does this money come from? Taxes. So, instead of those people that need these products directly paying higher prices you're just going to push that cost on everyone and in such a way that it costs even more, thanks to all the intermediaries that have to collect taxes, deal with the subsidies, regulations, etc. Thanks but no thanks. If you need a product, just pay the market price for it. If it's too high of a price, "drop some of your needs".

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149520)

The rest of the world (read: US) does not have rare earth mineral (which aren't rare at all, actually) mines because China has a long history of simply lowering prices until all competing mines have gone out of business. China considers that having a monopolistic source for rare earths gives them substantial manufacturing advantages for thousands of products, including florescent lights, medical supplies, and disk drives.

IMHO all of these products, including motors for hybrid vehicles, are too important to allow China to trivial blackmail the rest of the world at their pleasure. All that is needed is the US government to guarantee purchase at some set price and dozens of new mines would open overnight in the US.

Government intervention in the economy? LOL What would the teabaggers think?

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149534)

That's why we need to stop letting capitalist countries (like China) influence our own internal economies and politics.

If we are to allow China to influence our economies (that is, our political systems) then people should at least try to learn the language. Right now most people in the United States can't even speak proper English. How are they supposed to speak to their bosses if they don't know Mandarin or Cantonese?

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149920)

Repeat: 'Do Leh Loh Mo'

It's all the Chinese you will need.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149618)

You're forgetting other factors as well.

China doesn't give two shits about tearing up the land to extract whatever they can from it or the poor sods that get hired to do it. The same kind on wanton disregard for the environment is no longer allowed in many other parts of the world. Believe it or not, there's actually a cost associated when taking a long-term approach to the land as opposed to the short-term slash-and-burn style. This isn't a problem if everyone decides to play nice and take an environmentally friendly approach, but as you also point out, China really doesn't care and will load the dice even if it means turning their parts of their country into a complete shit hole.

China can't afford to subsidize their exports forever, though. Eventually it becomes financially viable for other countries to start tapping their own reserves. Either that or it becomes too strategically valuable such that other governments will also subsidize that particular industry. It might not even be a matter of greed from China's perspective. I imagine that they've realized that when the Middle East runs out of oil, the rest of the world will stop caring about them. Perhaps China has realized that it might not be in their long-term best interest to export all of their natural resources.

Environmentalist hypocrisy (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149694)

It's too easy to say that China is simply undercutting prices. In fact, both Europe and the USA could simply refuse to import rare earth minerals that are not mined according to appropriate environmental standards. But they don't - because they fear that their cronies will blame them for a their latest 1% fall in revenue, should they do and the radical environmentalists will stage another outbreak of moral panic anyway.

The result of environmental standards in the USA and Europe is for the most part simply that those things are done cheaper and dirtier elsewhere (China, India, Africa, whatever). In short, it's NIMBY whatever color the veil.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149744)

The companies buying the raw materials are at fault, really.

They knowingly buy their raw materials from mining companies that they know will jack up prices as soon as their slightly more expensive competitors are out of business. The companies are idiots, because they're looking at quarterly financial statements rather than long term.

Sure, you may be able to buy the raw materials slightly cheaper now, but in two years you've helped drive the mining companies' competitors out of business, and you can bet your ass, that the savings you've had will be gone in months.

Say what you will about Apple, Apple's products and their prices, but they are more than capable of looking at long term goals. Just look at their massive deals for flash and displays - people thought they were stupid for locking themselves into such deals, but really they were shoring up their supply line for years and years, to the point where they weren't really affected by fluctuating market supply and pricing.

But hey - I'm not a financial genius who only knows how to extract the most money out of a company for my own personal gain in the shortest amount of time.

Re:Yet another obvious solution (1)

Kreigaffe (765218) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149934)

Here's the problem. If you don't buy the cheaper materials, your company might not even be around in 2 years. That's the problem.
The solution should be a moratorium on chinese REs, or at least a tariff, neither of which will ever happen, and neither of which would work anyway because places like.. well, China.. wouldn't participate, so those that did would just be committing economic suicide.

Ugly situation every way you look at it.

dead man walking (2)

lophophore (4087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149196)

Rotating media is heading the way of the CRT. This will just accelerate the switch to SSD and whatever's next.

Re:dead man walking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149336)

A 5% to 10% increase in "rotating media" is not going to do much when SSD cost an order of magnitude more per GB.

Re:dead man walking (2)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149688)

SSDs are at or around a dollar per gigabyte. That's only running about six years behind the price of hard drives. In those six years, hard drive prices have dropped by a factor of ten. In the past three years, solid state disks have dropped by more than a factor of twenty. Thus, SSDs are dropping in price more than four times as fast as hard drives. If we extrapolate that into the future, the current order of magnitude will go away in about seven or eight years without this added burden on hard drives.

More importantly, however, most users don't need a terabyte drive in their laptops. (I already have one, and most other folks don't need nearly that much capacity.) For most folks, the question is therefore not when the cost per GB gets low enough, but rather whether they can get something big enough for a hundred bucks or less. Adding ten bucks to the base price on hard drives brings them a lot closer to the base price for SSDs.

Finally, a bump of 10% in rotating media won't make them equal, but it is important to note that this is a fixed cost being added to the cost of hard drive manufacturing, independent of capacity. Thus, there will always be this artificial floor propping up the price—a floor that SSDs won't have.

Re:dead man walking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149352)

You're right! I can't see any reason why I shouldn't run out now and buy some SSDs to replace my twenty 2TB drives!

Hell, with the higher price of rare earth metals those SSDs are looking positively cheap!

Panic. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149198)

I question the ability of civilization to survive if we have to pay $100+ per TB...

Re:Panic. (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149762)

We did just fine so far... ENTERPRISE drives are still 3-4x as expensive. Doesn't hurt anything except useless posts on Internet boards... They MIGHT have to send THIS post to the bitbucket in the sky ... Someday like 5 years from now...

To free up space for LOLCats!

Seriously, the machine I admin with all my company's data is only 500GB of meaningful data. that's up from about 450 or so a few years ago. The business factor is not very high for manufacturing related things..

magnets? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149210)

How the fuck do they work?

The real reason (1)

stoev (103408) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149216)

HDD industry was consolidated. The competition was reduced. There are now basically two producers - WD and Seagate.

Re:The real reason (1)

PRMan (959735) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149274)

But now there are many manufacturers:

Intel, OCZ, Kingston, Crucial, etc., etc.

Re:The real reason (0)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149342)

HDD industry was consolidated. The competition was reduced. There are now basically two producers - WD and Seagate.

How dare you sensical and factual information on Slashdot.
How is Commander Tachole going to generate clicks if you don't start spreading some FUD about China?

We already have some (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149266)

Didn't we just talk about this the other day?

http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/08/04/1857220/Rare-Earth-Deposit-Discovered-In-US [slashdot.org]

Now all we have to do is mine some of it.

Re:We already have some (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149512)

Sorry. You must have missed the news about the discovery of the Elk Creek lousewort. Genetically identical to every other lousewort, but the courts say the Elk Creek variety is a distinct species. So no digging anywhere near it. Endangered, of course.

5% increase on hard drives... (3, Funny)

sdguero (1112795) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149270)

Oh no! My next 3 TB drive is going to cost $105 instead of $100. The sky is falling!

Pffft. This isn't news worthy.

Re:5% increase on hard drives... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149380)

Not everyone buys hard drives one at a time. Companies often buy multiple 20 drive bulk packs when building storage servers. Personally I might buy the 10 drives I need for a build right now rather than several months from now as I originally planned.

So, speak for yourself, this is certainly news worthy.

Re:5% increase on hard drives... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149470)

Companies that buy drives in bulk to put into storage servers don't care about this 5% when compared to the retail price of drives.

They are already paying an arm and a leg to have a certain company's brand name on it along with support and warranty assurances.

Re:5% increase on hard drives... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149756)

H*ll... once someone put the price hike into it's proper context I realized that even I personally would not change my buying habits over this. I am not going to go out and by 5 or 10 more drives today just because the price is going to go up something on the order of my local sales tax.

Re:5% increase on hard drives...more for speakers2 (1)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149578)

This will also affect the Live Music Manufacturers since all the really sexy new light speakers are driven with Neodymium magnets and they use a lot more of the stuff per unit (lbs vs grams) than HDs

http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f87/neodymium-%93light-weight%94-speaker-cabinet-review-167954/

Neodymium magnets plus Class D amplifiers are creating a sea change in live amplification -I have a Markbass combo amp that does 300watts into a 12-inch speaker and weighs less than 40 lbs -of course it cost a bit: ~$1k
http://www.markbass.it/products.php

1500 watts, 18" subwoofer -only 43 kg
http://www.master-audio.com/producto.asp?id=195

genz-benz is another maker of really light powerful gear as well
http://www.genzbenz.com/?fa=whatsnew

I'm just sayin'

Escape the China syndrome (0)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149290)

"Race for rare earths" broadcast on the 18/08/2011
Come to Australia http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2011/s3296991.htm [abc.net.au]
The US, Europe, Japan are interested and it will only cost A$700 to $800 million (A$~=US$).
Get your vision goggles, spy radar, missile guidance and tank navigation systems supplies from friends :)
We love US investors and your open ended defence funding goes a long way in Oz :)

So what...... (1)

i_want_you_to_throw_ (559379) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149376)

The world is headed towards SSDs anyway. In fact this is only going to spur incentives for more rapid development of larger drives.

Re:So what...... (1)

Pranadevil2k (687232) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149658)

So either China gets big money from increased prices on rare earth exports, or they get big money manufacturing more expensive SSDs... win/win for China?

Recycling? (3)

pjwhite (18503) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149388)

With all the old hard drives that wear out or become obsolete, I wonder if there is any effort being put into recycling the rare earth magnets they contain, or if old drives are just dumped by the ton into landfills.

Re:Recycling? (2)

krray (605395) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149990)

Well .. *I* have recycled my old hard drives... The magnets in server class hard drives are phenomenal. They make absolutely wonderful tool holders -- as long as the tool can become magnetized (and they do) without being a problem for you. You find yourself buying metal things just so you can hang them up easily... :)

Buckyballs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149400)

Shit they can have all these lousy Buckyballs that my coworkers keep fucking around with.

Nevada deposits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149446)

Wasn't there news that the US (re)discovered some significant deposit somewhere?

Where is Elon "how we can beat China in cost" Musk when you really need his creative accounting skills.

Tempest in a Teapot... (4, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149550)

The Chinese will mess with the price of Rare Earths (which are not really all that rare) and the US will almost certainly begin using its own from a major find in California. All the while Austrailia, Japan, Africa and South America look at seriously developing their resources. The real lock China has on Rare Earths is its processing (pretty much the only game in town right now.) Here's a chance for the U.S. to get back into industrial jobs (god forbid) and produce a lasting job base for a new global economic boom in the rare earth arena. The Chinese advantage is short term, and if they squeeze too hard, the world will simply take their business away. Nobody likes a chiseler.

By the way rare earths are used all over the place and for a dizzying array of things. There are about 400 lbs of them in a late model Prius. They are used in virtually all green tech (high performance generators in modern wind mills are pretty much sluggs of rare earths.) Colorful plasma and LED displays use them (that cool display on your smart phone is probably chock full of rare earths.) Florescent lighting that is any color but off green uses rare earth mixed in with the coating. Rare earths are used in glass making, advanced textiles, plastics with special properties (OLEDs), and anything that uses an enhanced magnetic field from an earbud to an mag-lev train. Even the "Euro" contains a trace of Europium as an elemental pun. Modern society runs on rare earths.

Re:Tempest in a Teapot... (1)

avandesande (143899) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149838)

They aren't rare at all and there are deposits across the USA. Purifying them is environmentally a nasty business, which is why China supplies them.

Re:Tempest in a Teapot... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37150022)

"The real lock China has on Rare Earths is its processing (pretty much the only game in town right now.) Here's a chance for the U.S. to get back into industrial jobs (god forbid) and produce a lasting job base for a new global economic boom in the rare earth arena."

The number of jobs is quite low because any processing operation is highly automated to reduce costs unless you pay slave wages. Mining and processing metals is *not* the way to solve an employment problem, especially when any deposit will inevitably be in operation for only a limited time. Processing can last longer, employment-wise, but only if there's ore feedstock from mines and it is economic to process it, and if you are willing to accept the costs and challenges of doing a fairly messy chemical process responsibly.

I can explain the actual reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149552)

This is total bullshit. The reason they are increasing HD costs is because of SSD's. They are trying to leverage the cost ratio and exploit that ratio. If that is too complex someone explain it because I'm busy.

Re:I can explain the actual reason (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149936)

This is total bullshit. The reason they are increasing HD costs is because of SSD's. They are trying to leverage the cost ratio and exploit that ratio. If that is too complex someone explain it because I'm busy.

Well, if you think the cover story here is bullshit, then let's break this down to the real reason China has decreased exports and effected an increase in costs of (not-so)rare earth materials.

Because they can.

Oh wait, here's one more reason...

Because we let them.

'nuff said.

magnets (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149560)

how do they work?

Newfoundland/Labrador (1)

znigelz (2005916) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149644)

Our rare earth mines are just getting started. But the deposits are huge. It may be a couple years before it relaxes the market, but by no means do they control the rare earth market. They want you to think that to inflate demand. There are lots of other sources all over Canada being surveyed (and all over the united states for that matter http://news.slashdot.org/story/11/08/04/1857220/Rare-Earth-Deposit-Discovered-In-US) [slashdot.org]

Whence the Space Nutters? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149792)

As a galaxy-faring space-travelling powerhouse of a civilization, shouldn't we be mining the core of Jupiter for rare Earths?

(That's how batshit bugfuck insane you Space NUtters sound to me!)

Why don't we just recycle old hard drives? (1)

BlueCoder (223005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37149830)

Seriously. Anyone have statistics on the number of hard drives produced over the years?

Rare earths are strategic materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37149842)

China cut back on export of these materials in order to stockpile them for possible future military needs.

magnets! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37150134)

So this is why the price of buckyballs/neocube/generic magnet balls has increased so much. I don't know whether the hard drive or magnet ball price bothers me more...

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