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Software Engineering

SSD vs. HDD: A Comparison

James Gallagher - January 04, 2021


Traditional hard drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) are both popular methods of storage on modern computers .

If you’re buying a laptop or a desktop computer, storage space will be a consideration, even if you are only interested in the capacity of your storage drive.

In this guide, we discuss what HDDs and SSDs are, how they work, and what the advantages of each method of storage are.

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What is a HDD?

A traditional hard drive (HDD) is a storage device where the files and folders you have created are stored.

Most modern desktop computers come with a built-in HDD. This drive contains the operating system (OS) that runs a computer, such as Windows, and provides the storage space you need to store other files.

Traditional hard drives write data onto a disc . This disc spins around at fast speeds and a special device is used to write data onto the disc as it passes. Hard drives are limited by the speed at which the disk can spin and the connectors they use.

What is an SSD?

A solid state drive (SSD) is another method of file storage.

SSDs use a concept called NAND flash memory to write files onto a drive. This is different from the HDD method of storage which involves moving a physical disc to store data .

Using a method that does not involve moving a disc means the drive can be faster. SSDs are not limited by the speed at which a disk spins.

SSDs are generally faster than a hard drive. You will notice this speed difference when you open programs. This is because one of the biggest bottlenecks when opening a program is the speed at which your operating system can access parts of that program. With an SSD, data can be read quicker so most programs can be opened at a quicker rate.

Advantages of HDDs

HDDs are capable of storing large amounts of data. On the commercial market, you’ll be able to easily find hard drives that provide capacity of up to 10 terabyte (TB). This is more space than the average computer user will ever need.

The average HDD is affordable. This means if you ever need to replace a drive, or need more storage space, you will not have to break the bank.

This is because HDDs are established technologies. They are built into almost every computer and so it’s no surprise they are everywhere.

Advantages of SSDs

SSDs have a significant edge over HDDs in terms of speed. The speed of SSD technology is the defining characteristic of the SSD.

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As we discussed earlier, HDDs are limited by the speed at which a disc can spin. While many hard drives can spin incredibly fast, the speeds at which they read and write data are small in comparison to an SSD.

SSDs depend on a strong data connection between a drive and a computer. If you use a modern connector, such as SATA III, you should be able to read 550 megabyte (MB) per second and write 500MB per second. Some drives may provide quicker speeds.

A HDD, on the other hand, may only write 100MB per second at the standard pace of a hard drive. This is around 5,400 rotations per minute (RPM). RPM describes how many times a disk can spin completely in one minute. This is because of the limitations of the moving parts in a disk drive HDD.

SSD vs. HDD

HDDs are the clear winners in terms of price. HDDs have been around for a long time. As a result, they are easier to access. This means there is more choice on the market which drives down the price of each individual drive.

You’ll easily be able to find a good HDD at $40. The price you pay for a hard drive will increase depending on the number of RPMs the drive supports and the amount of storage space.

SSDs, on the other hand, are more expensive. Even SSDs that store smaller amounts of data, such as 128GB, come at a notable premium. SSD technology is new and still evolving. It is expected that you’ll have to pay a bit more for the speed they offer.

SSD price can be a prohibitive factor when you start to look at larger data storage sizes .

Another key consideration is space. If you need to store terabytes of files, HDDs may be the way to go. On the market today, you’ll find drives that support capacities of at least 10TB. Some may offer higher capacities.

Because HDDs are more affordable, they are easier to pick one up if you need more space. Needing more space is especially common for people who work with space-intensive applications, like video, audio, or photo processing, or gaming.

Our comparison would not be complete without talking about speed. SSDs are significantly faster than their HDD counterparts. If you want to run applications on your computer faster, an SSD may be a good investment.

With a hard drive, speed is limited by the pace at which the disc inside the drive spins. SSDs are limited by the type of data connector you use. More modern SSDs support SATA III which comes with notable speed increases.

When to Use an HDD and SSD

HDDs are best for applications that require a lot of storage, whereas SSDs are best if you need speed from your drive.

For the average computer user, using a HDD may not make much of a difference. While larger files may be noticeably slower to load than they would be with an SSD, most users do not need the speed benefits that SSDs offer.

Gamers, programmers, and office workers, who use large software packages, may benefit from having an SSD because they open and work with larger files on a more frequent basis.

The Bottom Line

Which is best for you: an SSD or a HDD? The best thing you can do is see if you can try each one out. Ask a friend if they have an SSD and see how quickly it performs.

Behind trying both, you should consider what applications you will be running. Do you need hundreds of gigabytes or terabytes of space? If so, a HDD may be better for you. Are you going to be reading and writing large files? An SSD may be better.

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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others. He also serves as a researcher at Career Karma, publishing comprehensive reports on the bootcamp market.

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