How to Choose a SSD, Hybrid or Hard Disk Drive

Space, the final frontier. For anyone who deals with electronic files and media, there will eventually come a time when you will need to invest in additional storage space.

Whether it be more space for saving images, videos, games or documents, storage is a reality folks have to deal with in today’s media-driven world unless they’re, well, hardcore Luddites.

Then again, picking the right storage option for you can be a bit complicated. From external drives both big and small to various types of internal drives, storage buyers are faced with myriad options. Here are some pointers to think about to help make your decision a wee bit easier.

01
of 07

Solid state, hybrid or hard disk?

SSD vs. HDD
A traditional hard drive vs. a solid-state drive. WD/Samsung

This is an important question especially when looking at an internal drive though it can apply to larger external drives as well. First, let’s explain the difference between them. A hard-disk drive (HDD) is like the Tiger Woods of drives. It’s been around for a while and was great in the beginning though not as prolific as it used to be. A traditional hard drive basically uses metal platters, a magnetic surface and moving parts to write your data. In contrast, solid-state drives (SSD) don’t use spinning discs and typically relies on flash memory to get the job done. Then you’ve got solid state hybrid drives (SSHD), which combine both technologies in order to try and get their advantages in one package, though they won’t be as pronounced compared to going full bore with either SSD or HDD. Note that SSHDs also can possess both technologies’ disadvantages as well, though in a lesser scale, too. So which is best for you? Read on for some factors to consider.

02
of 07

Price and cost

As is the case most times with new technology vs. old, a traditional hard drive will be much cheaper than a solid state drive. You can get an external 1TB drive for less than a hundred bucks, sometimes only $55, which is a screaming deal compared to how much it would cost you 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. 

03
of 07

Need for speed

If you don’t care about price and are simply concerned about how fast your storage can go, then buying a solid-state drive is usually the way to go. This is true for folks who work on large files such as videos, for example, and do a lot of editing. Sandisk’s Extreme 500 Portable SSD, for example, is typically four times faster compared to traditional external drives. Hybrids also can get close to SSD speeds but at a lower price. When choosing an external drive, note that you also can pick between USB 2.0 and the faster USB 3.0 format. 

04
of 07

Capacity

Traditional hard drives provide more options when it comes to capacity, at least in terms of cost. You can get a pretty beefy hard drive easily while SSDs can be tougher to get at larger sizes or will at least cost you a fortune at the upper end of the capacity scale. 

05
of 07

Portability

Solid-state drives win easily on this end when it comes to external options. Even today, a 1TB external hard drive can be bulky whereas a flash equivalent can be much smaller in comparison. At lower capacities, you can go extra tiny with flash memory options such as the Leef Supra 3.0, for example. Then you’ve got little wonders such as the Sandisk Ultra Fit which can squeeze in 128GB in a tiny package. In fact, they’re so tiny, they can be easy to lose. 

06
of 07

Durability

Thanks to the lack of moving parts, solid-state drives can withstand more abuse via drops and extreme temperatures than traditional hard drives. This might not be as much of an issue for internal storage for a desktop computer, for example, but can be for laptops. Durability is especially a factor for external storage, particularly for outdoors enthusiasts or photographers and videographers. Note that SSDs can still fail, though.

07
of 07

Battery life

This isn’t as big a factor as the previous ones but for folks who use laptops when they’re out and about, the lack of moving parts make solid-state drives more power efficient than traditional drives.

Jason Hidalgo is About.com’s Portable Electronics expert. Yes, he is easily amused. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo and be amused, too.