SSD vs HDD
Whether you’re building your own PC or looking to upgrade your existing setup, storage will probably be at the top of your list. At that point, you might wonder whether to get a solid state drive (SSD) or the traditional hard disk drive (HDD).
For a long time, HDDs were considered the traditional hard drives. It wasn’t until the last few decades that the old drive started to get replaced with SSD technology. Yet, many machines still have hard disk drives and seem to work just fine.
Read on to find out what’s the difference between HDD and SSD and which one will best suit your needs.
Although SSDs and HDDs perform the same function – both are used to store data – there are some notable differences between them. SSDs apply more modern technology and don’t use moving parts. This makes them more durable, faster, smaller, quieter, and more energy efficient than HDDs. On the other hand, HDDs are cheaper per GB of storage capacity, and if damaged, data recovery tends to be easier.
What are HDDs and SSDs?
Solid state and hard drives are types of non-volatile memory. This means they maintain the data stored on them even when powered off. Such memory types are different from, for instance, RAM memory.
The basic difference in the HDD vs SSD comparison is in the way they’re built. Traditional hard drives contain mechanical components. The main parts of a hard disk drive (which is what HDD stands for) include spinning platters and specialized arms used to write data on the disks.
On the other hand, a solid state drive isn’t built from mechanical parts. Instead, it’s based on NAND flash memory chips. This technology has more in common with the flash storage in USB sticks than with HDD storage.
When entering the SSD vs HDD debate, it’s worth noting that both are used as internal and external storage devices. In that sense, one data storage device won’t differ from the other. However, solid state drives and hard drives are anything alike when other factors are considered.
SSD vs HDD: The Differences
Besides the main difference in their build, a hard disk and solid state drive will differ in the following respects:
- Form factors
- Storage capacity
- Power usage
Solid state drives have the advantage of extremely fast data transfer. Compared to hard disk drives, SSDs will be able to retrieve data at much faster speeds.
The reason for this is simple: Hard disk drives need to speed their spinning disks to start working optimally. Plus, they’ll rely on the mechanical action of the write/read arm for data access. All this will impact the HDD speed.
But solid state drives with their flash memory technology don’t have mechanical parts. As a result, SSDs store data very quickly and recover it just as fast.
The speed difference will be particularly visible when comparing SSD vs HDD as a boot drive.
For instance, if you try booting Windows, MacOS, or another operating system from an HDD and then an SSD, you’ll find the hard drive somewhat sluggish.
The same will apply to various programs. The larger the app, the more SSD performance will stand out.
A form factor is essentially the physical size of the storage drive.
Since a hard drive stores data on platters, it has a limitation on how small it can be. Furthermore, smaller platters mean less storage capacity.
There were attempts at manufacturing 1.8-inch hard disks several years ago. However, these smaller hard drives maxed out at around 320 GB.
In contrast, solid state drives don’t have such limitations. Like flash memory USBs, these drives have been getting smaller, from the 2.5-inch laptop format to the modern M.2 size that can be as small as 42mm.
Considering the differences in technology, HDDs will never be able to catch up with solid state drives in terms of size.
When it comes to storage space, this might be one of the rare categories where solid state drives don’t have the upper hand.
The issue isn’t so much in the space as in the relationship between storage and pricing.
While an internal HDD can easily reach 8 TB or more, SSD capacities usually don’t go over 2 TB. However, consumer computers will rarely have SSDs that large. Rather, you’ll more likely find 256 GB solid state drives on most computers. Higher-tier laptops might have a 500 GB SSD, but most often won’t go over that.
SSD costs tend to get extremely high with more storage capacity. But the price of HDDs doesn’t rise as steeply. In other words, if you need plenty of storage space, a hard drive will be the better choice. You’ll be able to get more gigabytes for less money.
When comparing HDDs and SSDs of the same capacity and size, the traditional hard drive will always be cheaper.
For example, if you want to buy a 2.5-inch 1 TB hard drive, you’ll need to set aside about $60. In contrast, the most affordable internal SSDs in that class will cost closer to $80.
When viewed from a dollar-per-gigabyte perspective, HDDs can reach 3-4 cents per gigabyte. For SSDs, the price per gigabyte will be around 8-10 cents.
However, the price gap might get smaller as time goes by. We’ve seen falling SSD prices in the past decade. As the technology becomes more commonplace, that trend will likely continue.
Still, getting an SSD at an affordable price is a matter for future markets. Currently, there’s no competition between solid state and hard drives – the traditional hard drive is more affordable by far.
With the matter of durability, we’re returning to the areas in which SSDs dominate hard drives. As with several other factors, the reason for this is in the technology.
A traditional hard drive is made of various moving parts, which makes drive fails more likely. This is especially true in laptops than desktop PCs.
Since the write/read arm of a hard drive is only several nanometers away from the platter, any impact or shaking can make the two come into contact. In that case, the storage drive may become damaged beyond repair.
Naturally, SSDs don’t have such structural weaknesses. Owing to that, they’ll last longer than hard drives – flash memory cells are much harder to damage than physical discs.
But all this doesn’t mean an SSD won’t wear out after a certain period. The cells in the drive’s memory have a limited use, after which they may fail. However, this will be a gradual process that you can monitor through your operating system.
A failing SSD will probably give you enough leeway for data recovery and backup. As soon as the system reports any issues, you can send the most important data to cloud storage or migrate it to another drive. A hard drive might not give you any warning signs before it malfunctions.
HDDs and SSDs need constant power while in use. Yet, the mechanical nature of a hard drive will make it less power-efficient than its counterpart.
A hard drive will need power to spin its platters. The physical movement will, of course, come with friction, which means that some of the energy consumed will be put to waste.
An SSD will use energy much more efficiently since there are no mechanical parts involved. This will be crucial for laptops as reduced power spending may prolong battery life. But an SSD may be a great solution for a desktop computer, too, as your energy bills will be reduced.
The mechanical parts of an HDD make some noise, especially when the drive needs to read or write data.
Earlier HDD models could get quite loud, although that issue was more or less resolved as technology advanced. Still, you can’t find a completely silent HDD.
HDDs also had a specific issue where the noise levels increased with the drive’s speed. Even with other, future brands introducing technological solutions, this aspect likely can’t be corrected.
Lacking any mechanical parts, SSDs don’t produce any noise. This makes them more convenient as external drives.
Here’s how HDDs and SSDs compare when every aspect is taken into account:
- HDDs are ideal mass storage solutions with greater capacity and better prices.
- SSDs are better in terms of speed, physical size, durability, power usage, and noise levels.
While it might seem like SSDs are overall superior to HDDs, the gap in pricing and available capacity makes it a closer race.
Depending on your needs, you might not want an SSD in every case. Even with the mentioned shortcomings, an HDD could be a better solution.
Let’s look at different scenarios where one drive type might be more favorable than the other.
When to Use HDDs and SSDs
Best Use for HDDs
An HDD will be the best solution when you need to store large volumes of data in one place. Keeping all the data on your computer will be easier and more affordable using HDDs.
This is especially true if you prefer to download your media rather than stream it. Music and video can often come in large files and will fill up your storage relatively quickly. At that point, it won’t take long before you need an upgrade. And large HDDs will be much more affordable than SSDs.
In terms of affordability, an HDD will be the perfect choice if you’re on a budget. When you’re building a cheaper, light PC setup, you definitely won’t need a first-class SSD from a leading digital publisher. A reliable and much cheaper HDD will serve you just fine.
HDDs might also be a better fit for certain professions. In particular, any professionals who deal with graphics will benefit from the massive storage space.
If you do photo or video editing, even the essential, frequently used files will take up plenty of space. In fact, chances are you’ll burn through your old storage extremely fast. Buying additional terabytes in HDDs will put less strain on your budget.
Best Use for SSDs
SSDs will be ideal for users who need speed, additional security, and, to a lesser extent, a quieter setup.
When it comes to speed, an SSD will be very convenient when you need lightning-fast system and app booting. In professions where those extra seconds pile up quickly, using an SSD could be essential.
SSDs also come in handy if you’re frequently on the move. For instance, if your job requires plenty of field work, it will be much less risky to carry a laptop with an SSD than an HDD. Even if you drop your computer, the drive will probably survive the fall, which might not be the case with HDDs.
Similarly, if you’re often in a hurry, an SSD will be more responsive to sudden lid shutting and packing in haste. Such situations could easily spell the end of an HDD.
Finally, an SSD could be the best solution if you work as an audio engineer. Whether you’re mastering music tracks or recording ambient sounds, you’ll need the lowest noise level possible. SSDs will fare much better in that regard than HDDs.
Going full HDD or SSD isn’t the only possibility when building your computer setup. You can also create a dual-drive system or use hybrid drives.
If you’ve purchased a mid to high-tier computer lately, you might’ve already seen a dual-drive system in action. It’s essentially a build with a primary SSD and a secondary HDD.
The SSD is used to house the operating system and essential apps. It allows for fast data recovery of the crucial system files and, to some extent, faster booting.
The HDD provides the larger capacity needed for user files like game data and less important apps.
The dual-drive PC format has become widespread since it combines the best of both worlds. However, this build comes with a caveat.
While you likely won’t lack space on the HDD, the same might not apply to the SSD. A minimal SSD drive size for practical everyday use would be 256 GB. This is because your OS will take up plenty of that capacity, leaving less space for additional files or apps. Unfortunately, many setups on sale today feature 128 GB or smaller SSDs, which is borderline insufficient.
Furthermore, a dual-drive setup will be more viable for desktop PCs than for laptops. Of course, this is due to the simple fact that your computer will need to house at least two drives.
The other solution, hybrid drives, seemed like a good idea when they first appeared on the market. Hybrid drives are essentially HDDs with additional flash-based memory. The former takes care of capacity needs while the latter enables quicker loading of vital files.
This type of drive provides everything you might need in one package – in theory. But in practice, a hybrid drive couldn’t be on par with an SSD in terms of speed nor an HDD when it comes to size.
Plus, as the prices of SSDs started to fall, the little advantage you could get from a hybrid drive disappeared.
The bottom line is that a dual-drive setup represents the best alternative both to exclusive HDD or SSD use and to hybrid drive.
Interestingly, you may arrive at a dual-drive build even if you start by having only one type of drive.
For example, your computer may have only an SSD. In that case, getting more storage devices could be the first upgrade. Many users in that situation will choose an HDD for internal drives.
If you’re going for external upgrades though, an SSD will be a viable choice. This is due to its durability, which will play a significant role when you need to carry the drive with you.
On the other hand, if your setup is HDD-based, you might wish to get an upgrade in speed for certain essential apps, including your OS. Then, an SSD will be the obvious solution.
At the end of the day, each drive type will have its advantages. Which one you’ll choose will depend on your specific needs.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
How much faster is an SSD vs HDD?
What are the disadvantages of SSD?
Firstly, SSDs with a capacity greater than 2 TB are relatively rare. In that regard, it’s much easier to find an HDD with double, three, or four times more storage.
Secondly, larger SSDs are quite pricey. This is one of the main reasons you won’t see a 4 TB SSD in a regular PC setup.
The moderately priced options – 128 GB or 256 GB – provide insufficient storage for users who work with large files or download plenty of multimedia.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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