HDD vs SSD Storage

Make the right decision for your computer storage

You have a lot of decisions to make when you're buying a new computer or upgrading the one you have. One key element you should consider is storage, and this area goes further than just the number of giga- or terabytes the hardware can hold. You should also pay attention to what type of drive you're getting.

Your two choices are a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). Both have advantages over the other, and what you end up going with depends on which attributes are most important to you.

HDD vs. SSD

Overall Findings

HDD
  • Stores data on a single disk with a moving arm.

  • Cheaper.

  • Older tech.

  • Physical parts give more potential points of failure.

  • Larger hardware.

SSD
  • Stores data on chips.

  • Quieter operation.

  • More expensive.

  • Accesses and boots information faster.

Both HDDs and SSDs perform the same task. They store and access information on your computer. If budget is your biggest concern, however, a hard disk drive will cost less for the same amount of storage.

The affordability comes at a price, however. Solid-state drives are more efficient, flexible, and durable than the earlier storage standard. They're also easier to find, as hard disk drives usually appear in lower-end computers, and standalone and replacement drives are almost always solid-state.

If you're building a PC or shopping for one, the better investment is in a solid-state drive, although a hard disk drive will save you money.

Price: SSDs Will Cost You

HDD
  • Older, less expensive tech.

SSD
  • Newer and more expensive for the same amount of storage.

The price of a hard drive will vary widely based on several factors, including manufacturer and size. In general, though, a hard disk drive will be cheaper than a solid-state drive with the same capacity.

While a current MacBook Pro may cost about the same as an older one (when it was new), for example, the older computer likely has more storage. This difference is because the earlier hardware likely has a higher-capacity but cheaper hard drive. Newer, high-end models will have solid-state drives that may have less capacity for the price, but they do offer several advantages independent of cost.

Again, however, if you're replacing a hard drive and your main concern is price for storage, you can still get by with a hard drive. But this isn't the only element you should consider.

Performance: SSDs Are Faster and Quieter

HDD
  • Mechanical parts make for slower operation.

  • Spinning drive and moving arm create noise.

SSD
  • Flash-style memory lets computer access and run data more quickly.

  • Runs silently.

For performance, a traditional hard drive can't compete with its solid-state counterpart. A lot of why this is has to do with how each version of storage retrieves data.

A hard drive keeps information on an actual, metal disk that it accesses with a metal arm that physically moves to the location of the data on the drive. The process works similarly to a vinyl record or DVD player.

Because it uses mechanical parts, a hard drive just won't be able to keep up with a solid-state drive. The newer tech uses flash memory it stores on interconnected chips. SSDs read, write, and pull up data digitally, which is several times faster than a hard-drive's analog setup.

Those moving parts also introduce another potentially unpleasant element: noise. Hard drives create sound both when the disk spins up and as the arm moves across it, which means that computers containing them run louder than ones that don't. The chips in solid-state drives don't move when the hardware is in operation, so those devices are much quieter, if not silent.

Stability and Durability: SSDs Are Robust

HDD
  • Moving parts are less reliable.

  • Susceptible to fragmentation.

SSD
  • Fewer parts to break.

  • More reliable setup overall.

In terms of robustness, SSDs completely outclass hard disk drives. Once again, the older tech's shortcomings come mainly from its mechanical setup.

Having more moving parts in any device provides more places it can break or malfunction. HDDs have two big danger points: the metal disk and the arm that reads it. If either fails or receives damage, the drive is basically useless.

That's not to say that solid-state drives are invincible, but over time, they're far less likely to conk out. They also have no moving parts, so you don't have to worry about damaging an SSD if you drop your computer.

The other shortcoming of a hard disk is its potential for fragmentation. Fragmentation happens when the drive doesn't have enough contiguous free space to store an entire file, so it ends up splitting (fragmenting) it over several places on the drive. Having parts of files spread across the entire disk can not only affect loading speed, but it can also make the system less stable.

The possibility of fragmentation also creates an extra bit of maintenance for hard disks. You can run a program to "defrag" your hard drive and consolidate your data for better and faster performance. It's a fixable problem, but it's just something you'll have to do from time to time that isn't necessary with a solid-state drive.

Final Verdict: Solid-State Drives Are the Best Choice

Unless you're on a serious budget, solid-state drives have every advantage over hard disk drives. The earlier tech is less efficient, more likely to break, and slower. The moving parts that run its mechanism provide multiple potential points of failure that solid-state drives don't have.

In general, HDDs are on the way out. You'll typically only find them in lower-end laptops and as budget, standalone external and internal drives. Solid-state storage is becoming the standard for new, higher-end hardware because of its many advantages. SSDs' generally smaller size also creates more flexibility if you're building your own machine.

Both versions of a hard drive will store and access your information. But you will get what you pay for. The extra money for a newer-style drive will probably save you headaches later on.