How to Choose an SSD, Hybrid, or Hard Disk Drive

Some tips to help you choose from different drive types

Upgrading your computer's storage space requires careful planning. With so many technologies and interface standards, weigh the costs and benefits against your use cases. When it comes to a hybrid hard drive vs. an SSD, for example, consider the improved affordability and overall capacity (flash plus solid-state storage) against the need for more solid-state storage.

Here are some tips to help you decide between an SSD, hybrid, or hard disk drive.

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Solid State, Hybrid, or Hard Disk?

SSD vs. HDD hard drives

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A hard-disk drive is what most people consider when they think of a hard drive, although the term refers to a specific type of drive. A hard-disk drive uses metal platters, a magnetic surface, and moving parts to write data. In contrast, solid-state drives (SSDs) don't use spinning discs. These drives use flash memory to get the job done.

Then there are solid-state hybrid drives, which combine both technologies to deliver the advantages of HDDs and SSDs in one package. However, these aren't as pronounced compared to going full-bore with either an SSD or an HDD. SSHDs also possess both technologies' disadvantages, though on a lesser scale.

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Price and Cost

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A hard-disk drive is cheaper than a solid-state drive. An external 1 TB drive costs less than $100, sometimes only $50. This is a deal compared to how much these devices sold for as recently as five years ago.

A similar solid-state drive can cost four to eight times as much, though prices have gone down in recent years. Hybrid drives usually fall in the middle for cost and are an especially popular option for internal hard drives.

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Need for Speed

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If you don't care about price and are concerned about how fast your storage performs, buying a solid-state drive is usually the way to go. Working on large audio and video projects make a great use case for SSDs.

The Sandisk Extreme 500 Portable SSD, for example, is typically four times faster compared to magnetic-platter external drives. Hybrids also get close to SSD speeds but at a lower price. When you choose an external drive, ensure it's rated for the fastest interface speed (for example, USB 3.1) your computer supports.

SSHDs present a mixed speed bag. For an SSHD to work well, the drive controller caches commonly used files in the flash component, rather than reading and writing from the magnetic-platter component. That process only works for predictable file access, for example, common operating-system files. If you work on many files and then never come back to those files, as is the case with a computer that processes one-off video files, the drive controller can't efficiently predict what data to stage in the flash component. This leads to overall performance that isn't significantly better than a base HDD.

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Solid state drive, artwork

Magnetic-platter hard drives provide more capacity options, at least in terms of cost. You can get a pretty beefy hard drive easily. SSDs can be tougher to get at larger sizes or will at least cost a fortune at the upper end of the capacity scale.

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Person using laptop with backup label on external hard disk drive at table
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A 1 TB external hard drive can be bulky, whereas a flash equivalent can be smaller in comparison. If size matters, SSDs win.

At lower capacities, you can go extra tiny with flash memory options such as the Leef Supra 3.0, for example. Or the Sandisk Ultra Fit, which can squeeze 128 GB in one small package. These are so tiny that's it's easy to lose one.

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Modern artist's desktop with an iPad, MacBook, and drawing tablet

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Because of the lack of moving parts, solid-state drives can withstand drops and extreme temperatures better than magnetic-platter hard drives. This factor might not matter for internal storage for a desktop computer, for example, but it's relevant for laptops.

Durability is especially relevant for outdoor enthusiasts or photographers and videographers. SSDs can still fail, though.

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Battery Life

Close-Up Of Hard Disk Drive Against White Background
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The lack of moving parts makes solid-state drives more power-efficient than magnetic-platter drives that require spinning disks for storage operations.

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