You may expect a solid-state drive (SSD) to be the main boot disk in a modern ultraportable laptop. Even larger gaming laptops now use solid-state drives (SSDs) for their operating systems, while only a minority of low-cost computers still use HDDs. These days, even the cheapest prebuilt desktop PCs include SSDs for their boot disks. In certain circumstances, a desktop will have both, with the SSD serving as the primary storage device and the HDD providing additional, more substantial space.
But how can you select if you have to narrow it down to just one? Let’s dive into the distinctions between solid-state drives and hard disk drives (HDDs) and discuss the pros and cons of each to aid in your decision.
Disk Drives and Solid-State Drives: An Explanation
The classic rotating hard drive is the foundation of a computer’s non-volatile memory. In contrast to random access memory (RAM), information saved on a hard drive remains intact even after powering down the computer. Your digital music collection, a high-definition copy of the original Star Wars trilogy, and historical weather records are all stored on a hard drive, which is simply a metal platter with a magnetic covering. While the platters are rotating, data is accessed via a read/write head mounted on an arm (or arms).
An SSD serves the same fundamental function as a hard drive, but data is instead stored on linked flash-memory chips that preserve the data even when there’s no electricity running through them. These flash chips (commonly called “NAND”) are superior in speed and reliability than the chips used in standard USB flash devices. As a result, the cost of an SSD is more than that of a comparable capacity USB flash drive. (Check out our in-depth glossary of SSD terminology.)
SSDs, like thumb drives, are often significantly smaller than HDDs, giving PC makers greater design freedom. Some types are designed to fit into the more commonplace 3.5- or 2.5-inch hard drive bays, while others may be put in a PCI Express expansion slot or even mounted directly on the motherboard. These on-board solid-state drives (SSDs) have an M.2 form factor. For additional information on these multifunctional SSDs, check out our recommended M.2 SSDs.
The P5 are crucial (Image: Zlata Ivleva).
Please be aware that although the focus of this article will be on internal drives, the majority of the information also applies to external drives. SSDs are slowly but steadily increasing their share of the external-drive market, and they are available in both big desktop and tiny portable form sizes.
An Overview of Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Drives
In the grand scheme of computer history, hard disk technology is rather old. Images of the 1956 IBM 650 RAMAC hard drive are famous; it employed 50 24-inch-wide platters to store a massive 3.75MB. Today, a typical 128Kbps MP3 file occupies the same amount of space as two standard commercial refrigerators. The RAMAC 350’s usefulness was confined to the public sector and the private sector until its eventual obsolescence in 1969. How far we’ve come!
In the early 1980s, a 5.25-inch diameter became the norm for PC hard drives; this was followed by the now-common 3.5-inch desktop-class and 2.5-inch notebook-class drives. From serial to IDE (now often termed Parallel ATA, or PATA) to SCSI to Serial ATA (SATA), the internal cable interface has evolved many times. However, they all serve the same basic purpose of linking your hard drive to the motherboard of your computer.
Most 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives utilize SATA connections (at least on consumer systems), however many high-speed internal SSDs now use the faster PCI Express interface instead. Capacity has increased by a factor of over a million, from tens of thousands of megabytes to hundreds of thousands of terabytes. The storage capabilities of today’s 3.5-inch hard drives reach 10 terabytes.
While the SSD’s origins may be traced back many decades, the device itself has a considerably shorter history. In the 1970s and 1980s, technologies like bubble memory saw a short period of popularity before eventually dying out. Modern flash memory is an evolution of this concept since it also doesn’t need to be constantly powered to keep your data safe. In the late 00s, when netbooks were becoming popular, the first solid-state drives (SSDs) appeared. In 2007, solid-state drives (SSDs) of 1GB capacity were utilized in the OLPC XO-1 and 2GB SSDs were used in the Asus Eee PC 700 series. The solid-state drives (SSDs) in these notebooks were soldered directly to the circuit boards.
Western Digital Gold Hard Drive, 12 terabytes
As the capabilities of netbooks and other ultraportable notebooks expanded, so did the capacities of SSDs, leading to a standardization on the 2.5-inch notebook form factor. Manufacturers would just have to account for one kind of drive bay, and you’d be able to swap out your 2.5-inch hard drive with a faster solid-state drive in no time.
The M.2 SSD standard (which is available in both SATA and PCI Express flavors) was followed by additional, smaller SSD form factors as the mSATA Mini PCIe SSD card. The prevalence of M.2 in laptop SSDs has meant that 2.5-inch SSDs are now mostly used for retrofitting desktop PCs and outdated laptops. Current systems are often found in M.2 form factors.
SSDs are now the norm in mainstream systems and high-end laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro, which does not provide a hard drive even as a customizable option. Hard drives are still present in inexpensive and older systems. However, hard disk drives (HDDs) are still available on desktop computers.
However, both SSDs and hard drives serve the same purpose in computers: they are used to start up the computer and store data. However, there are distinguishing features of many storage mediums. What sets them different, and why would you choose one over the other?
Does SSD Cost More Than HDD?
When comparing prices per unit of data storage, solid-state drives (SSDs) are more costly. As of this writing, the cheapest 1TB internal 2.5-inch hard drives may be purchased for $40 to $60, while the cheapest 1TB SSDs can be purchased for roughly $80. A solid-state drive costs twice as much per gigabyte as a hard disk, or $8 against $4. When comparing high-capacity 3.5-inch hard disks, the variations become more apparent. If you buy a 12 terabyte (TB) 3.5-inch hard drive for $300–$350, for instance, you may get the price per GB down to 3 cents.
Given the hard drives make use of tried-and-true technology, their lower cost is expected to be maintained for the foreseeable future. Although the price difference between hard drives and low-end SSDs is narrowing per gigabyte, the additional cash for the SSD may cause your system price to exceed your budget.
What are the maximum and typical storage capacities of an SSD and an HDD, respectively?
Capacity levels higher than 2TB on consumer SSDs are very unusual and costly. Primary drives in computers typically range in size from 500GB to 1TB. Even while 500GB is the new “base” for high-end laptops, cheaper SSD-based computers may only include 128GB or 256GB of storage due to cost considerations. Users with vast media collections or who specialize in content production will demand even more, with 1TB to 8TB drives available in high-end computers. The more space your computer has, the more files you can store on it. Local storage is less costly and requires a one-time purchase rather than a subscription, so it’s a better option if you want to store data that you intend to distribute across several devices.
Does SSD Outperform HDD in Speed?
SSDs excel at high speeds. With an SSD, a computer may start up in seconds rather than minutes. Hard drives take more time than SSDs to reach running speeds and then remain slower in typical usage. Booting, software launching, and file transfers are all sped up on a computer or Mac with an SSD. The added speed might be the difference between completing on time or not, whether you’re using your computer for work, education, or play.
EVO Plus 970 from Samsung
Fragmentation is a related but distinct problem. Because of their rotational recording surfaces, hard drives operate best with bigger files that are set down in continuous blocks. In this method, the drive head may move in a single, smooth motion from the beginning to the finish of a read. When a hard drive is full, fragments of huge data are spread out throughout the disk platter, resulting in a condition known as “fragmentation.” While advances in read/write algorithms have helped reduce the impact, fragmentation of hard drives is still a potential performance bottleneck. However, SSDs cannot since information may be stored wherever without incurring any penalties due to the absence of a physical read head. This helps explain why SSDs are so fast.
To put it another way, numerically? When comparing read/write speeds, a standard SATA-bus SSD will commonly peak at double that of a platter-based single hard drive. Depending on the generation and amount of PCI Express lanes available, modern PCI Express-based SSDs may be much quicker. The newest PCI Express Gen 4 drives can achieve speeds of up to 7,000 MB/s, which is easily four times as fast as the fastest platter drives. They won’t be able to maintain those peak reading and writing rates consistently, but the similarity is clear.
How Durable Is an SSD Last compared. an HDD?
In the event that your laptop bag is dropped or your system is jolted while it is running, an SSD is more likely to keep your data secure since it has no moving components. During normal operation, the read/write heads of a hard drive hover only a few nanometers above the drive platter; when the system is turned off, the heads are parked. Besides, there is only so much a parking brake can do. An SSD is the way to go if you’re harsh on your gear.
Which Form Factors Do SSDs and HDDs Use?
There is a physical limitation to the miniaturization of hard drives due to the utilization of spinning platters. Smaller 1.8-inch spinning hard drives were being developed for some time, but development halted at about 320GB, and nowadays, smartphone makers solely utilize flash memory for main storage.
A Samsung 870 QVO SSD
SSDs have no such limits, therefore they may continue to shrink as time goes on. Although solid-state drives (SSDs) come in a standard laptop drive size of 2.5 inches, this is just for compatibility with already-existing drive bays. The M.2 form factor is becoming popularity, and these drives are available in 42mm, 60mm, 80mm, and 120mm lengths.
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When in use, even the quietest hard disk will make some noise. (As the drive’s platters rotate, the read arm makes ticking motions back and forth.) More noise is produced by faster hard drives than by slower ones. Since they are not mechanical, SSDs are completely silent.
In addition, an SSD saves energy since it doesn’t have to start up a platter from rest. As a result, the SSD is more efficient since none of the energy it uses is lost to friction or noise. This will reduce the cost of running a desktop computer or server. You can get a few more minutes (or hours) out of your laptop or tablet by using this trick.
Then there’s the matter of lifespan. While it’s true that SSDs degrade over time (each cell in a flash-memory bank can only be written to and erased a limited number of times, measured by SSD makers as a “terabytes written” or TBW rating), you’re more likely to be throwing out the system for obsolescence than you are to start experiencing read/write errors with an SSD thanks to TRIM command technology that dynamically optimizes these cycles. whether you’re truly anxious, you may use one of numerous techniques to determine whether your drive is nearing its rated end of life. Since hard drives rely on physical recording techniques, they too will eventually wear down from repeated usage. When divorced from questions of portability and durability, longevity is a non-issue.
Differentiating Between Solid-State Drives and Hard-Disk Drives
The general takeaway? The price-to-capacity ratio favors hard drives. You should choose an SSD if you care about speed, durability, small size, low noise, or low fragmentation (technically, a subset of speed). SSDs would be the clear victor if not for the problems of cost and storage capacity.
However, would you be better served by an SSD, HDD, or a combination of the two? Let’s dissect that:
When Should You Use an HDD?
Fans of downloadable material and frequent downloaders: Video hoarders need storage, and these days it’s simple and inexpensive to acquire 8 terabytes of hard drive space or more.
Those on a tighter financial budget, likewise. Large amounts of reasonably priced storage space. Consumers looking to spend less than $300 on a new computer will be unable to afford SSDs.
Designers and engineers in the visual arts: Editors of moving images and still images use up and deplete storage space at an alarming rate. A 2TB hard drive will be less expensive to replace or install than a 500GB SSD, but the margin is narrowing.
Users in general: It’s hard to tell with these people. The cost of an SSD rapidly escalates for huge film and music collections, thus users who wish to download and store their own media files locally will still need a hard drive with additional space. But if you usually stream your music and films online, getting a smaller SSD for the same money would provide you a better experience.