Rather you like your storage cheap and plentiful, or lightning-fast and shockproof, there is a solution for you. Here’s how to pick between a solid-state drive and a traditional hard drive in your next PC.
In the last couple of years, solid-state drives (SSD) have become increasingly popular. If you purchased an ultraportable laptop in the last few years, it’s likely the primary boot drive is an SSD.
While most gaming laptops have moved to SSD, there is still a subset of budget machines that still favor hard disk drives (HDDs) for their affordability.
Aside from the cheapest models, prebuilt desktop PCs are mostly SSDs now too. Oftentimes a desktop will come with both, with the SSD as the primary boot drive and the HDD as an addition to the SSD.
Though, if you can only have one, how do you choose? Let’s look at the key differences between the two and walk through the pros and cons of each to help you decide. We will put them head to head and figure out which is truly better SSD vs HDD.
HDD and SSD Explained
The basic non-volatile storage on a computer is the traditional spinning hard drive. Unlike data stored in RAM, the information stored on it doesn’t “go away” when you turn off the system.
In the most basic sense, a hard drive is essentially a metal platter with a magnetic coating that stores your data, whether financial reports from the last century, a high-definition copy of Shrek, or your collection of family photos. This data is safely stored for us till we need it next.
An SSD performs the same basic function as a hard drive, except in a much more efficient way. The data is stored on interconnected flash-memory chips that retain data even when there’s no power flowing through them.
These flash chips (often dubbed “NAND”) are significantly different from the kind used in USB thumb drives and are exponentially faster and more reliable. SSDs tend to be more expensive than USB drives of the same capacities.
SSDs offer manufacturers more flexibility when designing a machine because they are much smaller than HDDs.
A History of HDDs and SSDs
In terms of computer history, hard drive technology is relatively ancient. We’ve all seen the pictures of the IBM 650 RAMAC hard drive from 1956 which is bigger than a car and only holds 3.75MB of storage space. This is the average size of a 128Kbps MP3 file today. It’s safe to say we have come a long way since the 1950s.
By the 1980s the PC hard drive form factor was standardized at 5.25 inches, soon thereafter came the now familiar 3.5-inch desktop class and 2.5-inch notebook class drives.
Over the years the internal cable interface has changed from serial IDE to SCSI to Serial ATA (SATA). But they each essentially serve the same purpose: connect the hard drive to the computer’s motherboard so your data can be shuttled to and fro.
The history of the SSD is much shorter, though it has roots reaching several decades into the past. In the 1970s and 1980s technologies like bubble memory were briefly popular, but the bubbles burst long ago.
A logical extension of the same idea is current flash memory, as constant power isn’t required to retain the data you store on it. During the rise of netbooks in the late 2000s is the first-time primary drives known as SSDs started appearing.
In 2007, the OLPC XO-1 used a 16GB SSD, and the ASUS Eee PC 700 series used a 2GB SSD as primary storage. These laptops were unique in the fact that the SSD chip came soldered to the motherboard.
As SSD capacities increased and netbooks and ultraportable laptops became more capable, it eventually standardized at a 2.5-inch notebook form factor. This way you could easily pop out your old hard drive and replace it with an SSD, and now manufacturers could just design around just one kind of drive bay.
SSD Vs HDD: The Advantages and Disadvantages
SSDs are now the rule in mainstream systems and top of the line laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro, don’t even offer a hard drive as a configurable option. Although hard drives are still around in budget and older systems, most commonly in desktop PCs.
At the end of the day, both SSDs and hard drives do the same job: They store your applications and personal files and boot your system. But each type of storage is unique in its own way. Why would you choose one over the other? And how do they differ?
How Expensive is SSD Compared To HDD?
SSDs are more expensive, in terms of dollars per gigabyte. You can purchase a 1TB internal 2.5-inch hard drive for between $40 and $60, but the very cheapest SSD of the same capacity starts at around $80.
That means you are going to pay about twice as much for an SSD of the same capacity which translates to 8 cents per gigabyte for the SSD and 4 to 6 cents per gigabyte for the HDD.
The difference in price becomes even more drastic if you look at high-capacity 3.5-inch hard drives. For example, you can buy a 12TB 3.5-inch hard drive for around $300 which pushes the per gigabyte cost to below 3 cents.
Hard drives will most likely remain less expensive for the foreseeable future since they use older, more established technology. Though the gap between hard drives and low-end SSDs is beginning to close, the extra money you spring for the SSD may push the price of your system over budget.
How Roomy is an SSD vs HDD, in Maximum Common Capacities?
It’s rare to find consumer SSDs in capacities greater the 2TB and when you do, they are expensive. It’s much more common to find 500GB to 1TB units as primary drives in systems.
Lower priced SSD-based systems typically come equipped with 128GB or 256GB, while 500GB is considered the “base” hard drive capacity for premium laptops.
Content creators and users with big media collections require even more storage, with 1TB to 8TB drives available in high-end systems. It’s as simple as this, the more storage capacity the more stuff you can keep on your PC.
How Fast Is SSD Compared To HDD?
Speed is the SSDs bread and butter. A PC equipped with an SSD will boot in only a handful of seconds. A hard drive is much slower and requires time to speed up to operating specs, it will always be slower than an SSD during normal use.
A PC or Mac with an SSD will always be faster in every way from booting up, to launching and running apps, to transferring files. The extra speed from an SSD may be the difference between finishing on time and being late, whether you’re using your computer for fun, school, or business.
Since hard drives have rotary recording surfaces, they tend to work best with larger files that are laid down in contiguous blocks. That way the head of the hard drive can start and end in one continuous motion.
When hard drives begin to fill up an issue called “fragmentation” begins to occur as bits of large files end up scattered around the disk platter. This greatly affects the performance of the hard drive. This can’t occur in SSDs, however, because there is no physical read head which means data can be stored anywhere without penalty. This contributes to the reason why SSDs are inherently faster.
SSD vs. HDD Noise, Power, and Lifespan
Since SSDs are non-mechanical, they make no noise whatsoever, compared to hard drives which even the quietest will emit a bit of noise when it is in use. Typically, the faster the hard drive the more noise it is going to make.
As far as power goes, SSDs consume much less since it doesn’t have to expend electricity spinning up a platter from a standstill. This will lead to a lower energy bill, on a desktop or server, and on a laptop, you will see a much longer battery life.
Then you have the issue of longevity. Since hard drives use physical recording methods, they will wear out much faster when compared to SSDs. It’s more likely for your SSD to become obsolete before it deuterates due to wear.
Breaking It Down By Use-Case: SSD Vs HDD
The overall takeaway? Hard drives win if you’re looking for a cheap price and large capacity. SSDs work best if you want fast speeds, no noise, small size, and the price is not a major concern. SSD would be the winner hands down if it wasn’t for price and capacity concerns.
But which better fits your needs, an SSD or HDD (or a hybrid of the two)? Let’s break it down:
Who Are HDDs Best For?
- Heavy downloaders and multimedia enthusiasts: Collecting videos takes space, and you can easily get 8TB or much more space with a hard drive for cheap
- Buyers on a Budget: Plenty of space for cheap. SSDs are far too expensive for buyers on a tight budget.
- Engineering professionals and graphics art: Photo and video editors run through a lot of storage fast, much faster than the average person. Buying a 2TB hard drive will be significantly cheaper than its SSD counterpart.
- General Users: These folks are in the middle of the road. Users who download large media files will still need a hard drive with more capacity. SSDs can get expensive quickly for these media collections. But if you’re more likely to stream your videos and music online then you might get a better experience from an SSD.
Who Are SSDs Best For?
- Road warriors: People who are constantly on the go and want to be able to shove their laptops into their bags with no worries. That laptop most likely wasn’t fully asleep before being violently shut to catch your next flight.
- Speed demons: If you don’t like waiting a long time for your computer to boot up and launch apps, then an SSD is for you. You can always supplement with an HDD for extra space.
- Engineering professionals and graphic art: No, we aren’t repeating ourselves, these people are also great candidates for SSDs or dual-drive systems. The extra speed may be the difference between proposals being completed.
- Musicians and audio engineers: The last thing you want is for your music to sound scratchy from the sound of the hard drive. Go for quieter SSDs.
When you need a lightning-fast PC that also has a large capacity, then a dual-drive system might be for you. In this case, an SSD will be installed as the PC’s primary drive (C:) for the operating system and apps, and a spinning hard drive for storing larger capacity files.
Though, you want to be sure the manufacturer doesn’t go too small on the SSD. Windows itself takes up a lot of space, so in our opinion, 256GB is a practical minimum for the primary drive. While 128GB is considered the absolute bare minimum if you have no other choice.
Physical space to fit the extra drive is another concern. You need physical space inside the PC chassis to hold two (or more) drives, which means these setups are only practical in PC desktops and higher-end gaming laptops with a big chassis.
SSDs Are the Storage of The Future
While the price of SSDs is coming down, they are still too expensive to fully replace the massive amounts of data that can be kept on HDDs for a fraction of the cost, especially when speed isn’t a major concern. SSDs are perfect for when speed and sound are a major concern, sometimes the best of both worlds can be found in a mixture of both. Let us know in the comments, do you use SSD or HDD, and which do you prefer?