How to Choose a SSD, Hybrid or Hard Disk Drive

Upgrading your computer's storage space requires careful planning—modern new technologies and interface standards admit to different cost-benefit calculations depending on your normal use case.

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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 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 your data. In contrast, solid-state drives don’t use spinning discs; they use flash memory to get the job done.

Then you’ve got solid-state hybrid drives, which combine both technologies to deliver the advantages of HDDs and SSDs in one package, though they won’t be as pronounced compared to going full-bore with either an SSD or an HDD. SSHDs also can possess both technologies’ disadvantages as well, though on a lesser scale, too.

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Price and Cost

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A hard-disk drive is much cheaper than a solid-state drive. You can get an external 1TB drive for less than $100, sometimes only $50, 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

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Need for Speed

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If you don’t care about price and are simply concerned about how fast your storage performs, then 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.

Sandisk’s Extreme 500 Portable SSD, for example, is typically four times faster compared to magnetic-platter external drives. Hybrids also can 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 (e.g., 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. But that process only really works for predictable file access—for example, common operating-system files. If your work on many different files and then never come back to them, as is the case with a machine that processes one-off video files, the drive controller can't efficiently predict what data to stage in the flash component, leading to overall performance not 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 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. 

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Midsection of man using laptop with backup label on external hard disk drive at table
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Even today, a 1TB external hard drive can be bulky whereas a flash equivalent can be much 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. 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. 

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Thanks to the lack of moving parts, solid-state drives can withstand more abuse from drops and extreme temperatures 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 outdoors enthusiasts or photographers and videographers. SSDs can still fail, though.

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Battery Life

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The lack of moving parts make solid-state drives more power-efficient than magnetic-platter drives that require spinning disks for storage operations.