If you are looking for a new PC or external hard drive, you will likely see two different storage options: traditional hard disk drive (HDD) and solid state drive (SSD). Deciding on the best solution for your needs can be a huge barrier if you don't know the difference. Should you go for the old school HDD or the newer, faster SSD? Here we will help you make the best choice based on such critical factors as memory size, speed and price.
If you choose an SSD, we've rounded up the best SSD offerings currently available as well.
Finding multi-terabyte hard drives – and they keep getting bigger – is not difficult to find without adding too much to the cost to the consumer. In contrast, SSDs are typically much smaller and prohibitively expensive above 2TB.
However, when it comes to storage space, hard drives have a distinct advantage and likely will for the foreseeable future. If you're looking to store something long-term, or if you're looking to store large files and folders, hard drives are the way to go, but this is one of the few areas where hard drives still have an impact.
Speed, form factor and durability
The “speed” of the drive is mostly focused on how fast it can read and write data. For hard disks, the speed at which the disks spin determines the read / write times. When accessing a file, the "read" part of the read / write head records the position of the magnet sections as they fly over the spinning platters. As long as the files to be read have been written one after the other, the hard disk will overflow them. However, because the disc is cluttered with data, a file can easily be written over multiple sections. This phenomenon is known as "fragmentation" and it makes files take longer to read.
With SSDs, fragmentation is not a problem. Files can be sporadically written across cells – and are designed to do so – without affecting read / time information as each cell is accessed simultaneously. With this simple, simultaneous access to each cell, files are read at an incredibly high speed – far faster than a hard drive can achieve regardless of fragmentation. Because of this, SSDs can make a system feel snappy, as access to data on the entire drive, known as random access, is much faster.
This faster reading speed has a tick next to it. SSD cells can wear out over time. They push electrons through a gate to adjust its state, which wears away on the cell and over time, degrades its performance until the SSD wears out. However, the time it would take for most of the users is quite long. You would probably upgrade your SSD due to obsolescence or a desire for more storage space before a standard SSD failed. There are also technologies like TRIM that prevent SSDs from degrading too quickly.
On the other hand, hard drives are much more prone to physical damage due to the use of mechanical parts. If you drop a laptop with a hard drive, there is a high chance all of these moving parts will collide, resulting in potential data loss and even destructive physical damage that could kill the hard drive instantly. SSDs have no moving parts so they can better withstand the rigors we put on our portable devices and laptops.
Another thing to be aware of is the form factor of these devices. Hard drives are almost always 3.5 "or 2.5", while SSDs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The 2.5-inch drive is still the most common, but smaller SSDs based on form factors like M.2 and PCIe are becoming more common. They're more expensive than their SATA III counterparts, but much smaller and increasingly offer the fastest storage speeds.
Although prices have been falling for years, SSDs are still more expensive per gigabyte than hard drives. With similar amounts of storage, you could pay almost twice as much for an SSD as for a hard drive – and even more for higher capacities.
While you pay higher for less storage space with an SSD, you are investing in faster, more efficient, and far more durable data storage overall. If you're building a system with speed, power requirements, or portability in mind, an SSD is a better choice. Adding an additional hard drive is easy and inexpensive on most desktops. If you need more storage this is a good upgrade. A separate data drive also allows you to upgrade or reinstall your operating system with minimal effort.
As SSD prices drop, we find fewer reasons to opt for hard drives in most systems. For as There are brand name SSDs with 500 GB, which is almost the price of an average 1 TB hard drive. At these prices, even casual users will see dramatic improvements in startup time, data access, and general system sneakiness. We expect new systems to include an SSD – or at least a hybrid drive.
Hybrid drives, external drives and the last word
Hybrid drives strike a balance between the advantages of SSDs and HDDs. They combine a hard disk and an SSD in one device. There are different versions of this type of technology.
First, there are the SSHDs – or solid-state hybrid drives. These drives are full-size hard drives (often around a terabyte or two) that come with an additional cache of SSD NAND storage (usually worth a few GB). SSHDs learn which files you use most often and write them to the quickly accessible SSD storage area. All other files are stored on the spinning hard drive. An SSHD does not offer the durability and lower power requirements of an SSD, but it should offer a significant increase in speed for certain processes.
You can find SSHDs that fit in a 2.5-inch slot as well as 3.5-inch options. In addition to these two hybrids, which are a great option for those who only have space for one drive, you can also purchase multiple separate drives depending on your configuration and the mounting space available.
If you are running an AMD Ryzen system with an X399, X400 or X500 series chipset motherboard, you can use AMD's StoreMI technology to combine any two drives. Usually this is a small SSD and a larger hard drive. However, you can use any combination to make your hybrid drive. Another option is Intel's Optane memory, which acts as a small caching drive but is not available on AMD systems.
There is also the option of using a drive as an external storage device. There are drives that are specifically made for this purpose – practically any drive that can be built into a PC can be inserted into an external housing set and connected to a PC via USB. The device usually works as a drive, but can be taken with you to access your stored files on any PC or laptop.
As the storage landscape changes rapidly, SSDs are becoming more common than HDDs. We do not recommend buying a system that contains only a hard drive, as you will be missing out on much faster PC usage. The price difference is worth it, if there is one at all, and the result is noticeable every time you turn it on.