SSD vs. HDD: What’s the Difference?
The Choice Is Yours
Until recently, PC buyers had very little choice about what kind of storage to get in a laptop or desktop. If you bought an ultraportable, you likely had a solid-state drive (SSD) as the primary drive (C: on Windows, Macintosh HD on a Mac). Every other desktop or laptop form factor had a hard disk drive (HDD). Now, you can configure most systems with either an HDD or an SSD, or in some cases both. But how do you choose? We explain the differences between SSDs and HDDs (or hard drives), and walk you through the advantages and disadvantage of both to help you decide.
HDD and SSD Explained
The traditional spinning hard drive is the basic nonvolatile storage on a computer. That is, information on it doesn’t “go away” when you turn off the system, as is the case with data stored in RAM. A hard drive is essentially a metal platter with a magnetic coating that stores your data, whether weather reports from the last century, a high-definition copy of the original Star Wars trilogy, or your digital music collection. A read/write head on an arm accesses the data while the platters are spinning.
Note: We’ll be talking primarily about internal drives in this story, but almost everything applies to external hard drives as well. External drives come in both large desktop and compact portable form factors, and SSDs are gradually becoming a larger part of the external market.
A History of HDDs and SSDs
Hard drive technology is relatively ancient (in terms of computer history, anyway). There are well-known pictures of the infamous IBM 350 RAMAC hard drive from 1956 that used 50 24-inch-wide platters to hold a whopping 3.75MB of storage space. This, of course, is the size of an average 128Kbps MP3 file today, in the physical space that could hold two commercial refrigerators. The RAMAC 350 was only limited to government and industrial uses, and was obsolete by 1969. Ain’t progress wonderful? The PC hard drive form factor standardized at 5.25 inches in the early 1980s, with the 3.5-inch desktop-class and 2.5-inch notebook-class drives coming soon thereafter. The internal cable interface has changed from serial to IDE (now frequently called parallel ATA, or PATA) to SCSI to serial ATA (SATA) over the years, but each essentially does the same thing: connect the hard drive to the PC’s motherboard so your data can be processed. Today’s 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives mainly use SATA interfaces (at least on most PCs and Macs), though some high-speed SSDs use the faster PCIe interface instead. Capacities have grown from multiple megabytes to multiple terabytes, more than a million-fold increase. Current 3.5-inch hard drives have capacities as high as 10TB, with consumer-oriented 2.5-inch drives maxing out at 4TB.
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In the battle of SSD vs. HDD storage, the winner is clear
Solid-state drives (SSD) and hard disk drives (HDD) are the two main storage solutions available to consumers and they each have their benefits. That makes them quite specialist for different tasks, but if you asked us to pick one over the other for your main system, our recommendation would be clear. The battle of SSD vs. HDD was won long ago.
SSDs are far faster than their HDD counterparts and though they lose out when it comes to overall storage size, their pricing isn’t too distinct these days either.
It isn’t difficult to find HDDs with several terabytes worth of storage and they are getting bigger all the time, without too much of an increase in cost to the consumer. In contrast, SSDs tend to be much smaller and become prohibitively expensive over 2TB.
When it comes to storage space though, hard drives have a distinct advantage and likely will do for the foreseeable future. If you want to store something long-term or store large files and folders, hard drives are the way to go. However, that is one of the only areas where hard drives still hold sway.
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