Hard disk drives have been the predominant storage device for desktop computers and laptops for a long time. But solid state drives (SSDs) are now quickly becoming the norm. If you’re choosing between the two, it's important to know their differences so you can get the one that best fits your needs.
What is an HDD?
An HDD is a spinning hard disk that reads and writes data on a metal platter with a magnetic coating. The internals of an HDD look similar to an old record player — there’s a platter or a stack of platters, which spin around a spindle, and an armature called a read-write head. Data is stored onto the platter via tiny magnetic particles.
What is an SSD?
Unlike an HDD, an SSD does not have any internal moving parts. Instead, it uses integrated circuit assemblies to store, retrieve, and cache data. An SSD has two key components: flash memory chips and the controller (i.e., an embedded microprocessor). Flash memory contains storage memory, while the controller executes firmware-level software.
HDD vs. SSD: How are they different?
We’ll compare the two storage devices based on these five categories.
HDDs take a long time to access data because the disk must spin to find it. They typically have a spinning speed of around 5,400 to 7,200 rotations per minute.
In contrast, SSDs can complete the same task 200% faster since they rely on instantly accessible memory chips. That’s why a computer equipped with an SSD can boot an operating system and load apps much faster than one that uses an HDD. An SSD can copy and move large files at 500 MB per second, while an HDD can do the same at 30–150 MB per second. This means you can copy a 20 GB movie in less than 10 seconds with an SSD, but you would need at least two minutes with an HDD.
Thanks to recent technological advancements, SSDs can now support terabytes of storage, just like HDDs. However, if you compare today’s lowest-priced laptops, you’d see that they’re either equipped with 128 GB SSD or 500 GB HDD. Why is there such a huge difference in storage capacity? It’s because SSDs come with prohibitively high price tags. Therefore, if you require a lot of storage space, HDD is the way to go.
For the same storage capacity, HDDs are less expensive than SSDs, which is why they’re often bundled in budget laptops and PCs. To keep its price competitive, a budget laptop typically can have only up to 512 GB SSD storage.
Some gaming laptops solve this speed-price dilemma by having both an SSD and an HDD — SSD for key applications and HDD for data. However, take note that most consumer and business laptops do not have room for multiple storage drives. Fortunately, you can easily find 1 TB external USB hard drives for under $50.
HDDs are more susceptible to shock and damage because they have various moving parts and components. This means that if you accidentally drop your laptop, your HDD might get damaged and your data will be lost. Moreover, the longer you use your HDD, the more it wears down and eventually ends up failing.
In contrast, because SSDs use a nonmechanical design of flash storage mounted on a circuit board, they are more durable and are better at keeping your data safe.
An HDD emits some noise when the drive spins back and forth to process data. In contrast, SSDs do not have moving parts so it does not make any noise at all.
Overall, SSD is the clear winner over HDD. While more expensive, SSD is the faster and far more durable data storage option in the long run.
If your computer can support multiple hard drives, you can use an SSD as the primary storage for your OS, applications, and most-used programs. You can then use an HDD to store pictures, documents, and other files that do not require quick access times and speeds.
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