These drives are becoming much more popular in laptops, while solid-state storage has always featured in phones and tablets. They’re more robust than a more traditional hard disk drive (HDD) because of the lack of moving parts.
Here we’ll explain the ins and outs of SSD and HDD technology in simple terms, so you know exactly what they entail, whether you’re actually buying one or just want to be more clued up on the technology.
SSD vs HDD: the basics
It’s the “solid” bit that’s the key term in SSD: these drives are made up from fixed flash memory that has no moving parts, like the storage inside a smartphone or USB stick (it’s not exactly the same technology, but it’s similar). Access to data is controlled by an integrated processor built into the drive.
A classic HDD, meanwhile, uses rapidly spinning, circular platters and a read-write head that physically moves across them, scanning for the right pieces of data as they’re needed – that’s all the whirring you heard on older computers.
While SSD technology offers a lot of benefits over HDDs (see below), until recently it’s been significantly more expensive for the same amount of storage. That’s now changed a little, which is why more and more laptops and desktops now come with SSDs installed.
In addition to next-gen consoles, SSDs are now typically used inside most laptops because of their advantages. In other cases, like external drives or network storage drives, HDDs are still popular, though SSD options are rising fast.
SSD vs HDD: speed and performance
Speed is the main benefit of an SSD, which can work much faster than an HDD – the exact speed bump really depends on what you’re doing at the time, and how you’re accessing your data.
That’s also why SSDs are being implemented in consoles, because vast amounts of game data needs to be read and written to disk on a constant basis. And that’s also why both Sony and Microsoft have been very particular with the storage standards for the new consoles.
Sony’s providing a 825GB drive with the PS5, while Microsoft’s gone for 1TB with the Xbox Series X – both are custom-designed Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) SSDs.
On a laptop, opening apps, encoding video, browsing the web or listening to music, you should notice everything goes faster with an SSD installed.
Some computers use a small SSD holding the operating system alongside an HDD for general storage, because boot up times are so much faster with the solid-state technology. Upgrade an older HDD to a newer SSD, and the difference is noticeable.
If you want the fastest computer that money can buy then you need one with an SSD inside it, though bear in mind that the hard drive is only one component, and it can get held back if the other internal hardware isn’t up to the same level.
SSD vs HDD: other considerations
With no moving parts, SSDs are also more durable than HDDs, should you happen to knock your laptop off the table on to the floor. They tend to stay operational for longer, though they do have a finite number of read/write cycles in them (these cycles will usually last years, so you don’t have to worry too much about them).
SSDs are also more compact too, which has made them the perfect choice as laptops have continued to get slimmer and slimmer. What’s more, they’re also less of a power draw than HDDs, which means your laptop battery lasts for longer.
So with all these positives for SSDs, why are the older HDDs still around? Two reasons: storage capacity and price. You can get traditional hard disk drives with much more storage on them (think 4TB and higher), whereas solid-state drives tend to struggle at that limit and above.
HDDs are great for big desktop computers, external drives which have to have a lot of capacity, and networked NAS drives.
Then there’s price, which we’ve touched on before: HDDs are still in the lead when it comes to price-per-gigabyte. With more of us storing our files in the cloud now, local storage isn’t as important as it used to be, but HDDs still keep more data for less money.
SSD vs HDD: What’s best for you?
There’s no doubt SSD is the superior technology right now: it’s faster and more reliable, and it uses up less energy than the HDD alternatives. Most modern computers get built with at least some SSD technology inside.
You’ll also come across computers that have hybrid drives installed, utilising a little bit of SSD storage for the most important (or regularly accessed) data, then leaving the rest to a HDD component. As far as the operating system is concerned, it’s just one drive.
HDDs continue to stick around – if you need the most storage for the cheapest possible price then they’re worth looking into. Say you’re wanting a huge external drive for your computer: in that case a traditional disk drive is probably your best option.
However, SSDs are quite clearly the better option nowadays and are the future of computing and console gaming in the years ahead. Watch for prices continuing to come down.
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Writing by David Nield and Dan Grabham.