Guides

Hard Drive vs SSD

hard drive

In this article we’re going to deep dive into Hard Drives and SSDs. ‘Hard Drive’ and ‘SSD’ are both terms you’re sure to have heard when reading about computers or when browsing the Ebuyer website. We’re going to go into why one might the better than the other (Hard Drive vs SSD), and how both can provide you with something you need for the full computer experience.

Once you’ve read this you’ll be fully loaded with information on Hard Drives and SSDs and you’ll be able to make an informed choice when you’re looking to buy…

What does the term SSD mean?

You may already have a general idea of what ‘Hard Drive’ means – so to begin with we’ll explain what ‘SSD’ stands for, and what an SSD can do.

SSD is an acronym of Solid State Drive. In the simplest of terms, an SSD is a hard drive which doesn’t have any physically moving parts within it. SSDs operate by flash memory instead of the more traditional method.

Flash memory is memory created by semiconductors linked together by integrated circuits (ICs). So, basically, SSDs work in a similar way to RAM or flash memory but they have a far larger capacity.

An IT specialist holds an SSD and an HDD (Shutterstock)

How does that work?

Memory chips on an SSD are comparable to those of random access memory (RAM). Instead of writing data to the magnetic platter of a Hard Drive, files are saved on a grid of NAND flash cells. Each grid (grids are sometimes also called blocks) can store between 256 KB and 4MB of data. The controller of the SSD has the exact address of the blocks. When your PC requests a file it is very nearly instantly available as there is no delay while waiting for a read/write head to scan across a disc surface to find the data needed.

The main benefit of an SSD not having any physically moving parts (unlike a traditional Hard Drive) is that the flash memory of an SDD is extremely quick to read and write. In fact, SSD access speeds can be so fast (anywhere between 35 to 100 microseconds, so approximately 100 times quicker than a ‘normal’ Hard Drive) that programs can run much more quickly. Programs which rely on speedy access to data to run well, particularly large amounts of it, will benefit greatly from the installation of an SSD. An example here of a program which does just that is your computer’s operating system.

SSDs don’t contain moving parts so they need less power to run than a ‘standard’ Hard Drive. Because of this lower consumption an SSD is less likely to overheat or to be adversely affected by magnetism. These are fairly common issues with HDDs. Also, because of the lack of moving parts, an SSD can be smaller than a standard hard drive.

The Form Factor of SSDs

Because there is no physical disc on which data is written and ‘recorded’, an SSD’s form factor can be so much more compact than that of a regular Hard Drive. This smaller size means an SSD is the perfect choice for brands making laptops or small form factor PCs. The recent trend for Micro- and mini-PCs has, in some ways, seen SSDs find their perfect match.

Internal SSDs (Shutterstock)

Hard Drive vs SSD: The reliability of SSDs

The term ‘reliability’ means whether data you save is stored as it is intended (ie. in an uncorrupted state) or whether there is corruption – and, therefore, problems. In general SSDs are far more reliable than HDDs, and this is due to the moving parts / no moving parts difference we have mentioned. Even though the movement involved in the functioning of an HDD is not necessarily huge, over time it can have an effect on performance. Without movement, SSDs are not affected by, for instance, vibration of the unit. And there are also less thermal issues arising from the movements of the mechanical parts.

Because they use spinning disks, HDDs need more power when they start up than SSDs do. SSDs use less power than HDDs to work, so data access is much faster and the device is idle more often. Also, because SSDs don’t have moving parts, they are so much quieter than HDDs. So you can rely on them not to give an annoying background whirr or buzz.

Connecting an SSD

Obviously there are models of SSD which are external units, so these can easily be attached by using the appropriate cable for the i/o between the SSD and your computer – USB or HDMI or whatever. We’ll discuss those in a moment. But to begin with we are talking about SSDs which are fitted within the chassis of your PC, or installed into your laptop. To incorporate an SSD into your system, it needs to be connected using a specific interface. The common interfaces are:

PCIe and NVMe SSDs

PCIe stands for PCI Express, and the PCI abbreviation stands for Peripheral Component Interconnect. This is a type of slot on the computer’s motherboard into which additional components can be connected. It would usually be used to connect graphics cards, network cards, or other high-performance peripherals. This PCIe gives you high bandwidth and low latency which means it’s perfect for when you need supersonic-speed communication between the SSD and your CPU/RAM. SSDs which use the PCIe connection type are from the Nonvolatile Memory Express standard (NVMe), which means there is higher input / output per second (IOPS). There is lower latency than SATA (which we’ll talk about shortly). NVMe boasts up to 16 GBits per second of raw throughput. Thanks to multiple parallel channels this runs at speeds of up to 4,000 MB per second.

mSATA III, SATA III, and traditional SSDs

SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. It’s an interface which was specifically designed for storage, and it generally has speeds of up to 6 GBit/s or about 600 MB per second. Though it is a great performer, SATA is in decline across the computer industry as it has been overtaken by NVME, which is even faster and therefore more desirable.

That doesn’t mean its ‘day is done’, however. Older desktop PCs which contain a standard hard drive could benefit greatly by upgrading to a SATA-based SSD. The process of fitting, replacing or upgrading is fairly straightforward for desktop PCs – just also remember to save all your data in advance of attempting any work on the hardware!

Gaming rigs benefit from an HD and SSD combo (Shutterstock)

Hard Drive vs SSD – or SSD and HDD?

Well, this is a kind of midway point in this article. An axis. A section which will ‘flip over’ from talking about one type of drive to talking about the other – after we have spent a little while talking about both. In your PC system you could actually have a combination of SSD and HDD, and there is something of a benefit to that idea. Using a hybrid storage system of a large capacity hard drive together with an SSD is becoming more and more common for PC users and gamers alike. So let’s imagine that’s our scenario – a PC built with a hybrid of SSD and HDD.

Ideally you could ensure your operating system and all of your programs and games are installed on the SSD for maximum speed reasons. Putting your operating system on your SSD will mean that it boots much faster and runs much more efficiently. Video editing suites or programs such as Adobe Photoshop would be good to put on the SSD, as this will speed them up considerably.

However, if your SSD is only 120GB (or less) you won’t have too much room to manoeuvre. The Windows operating system will bring that GB number down to around 100GB – and obviously any further programs and games you put on there will reduce it further. You also should keep up to a quarter of the remaining space free on the SSD so that it can ‘maintain itself’. So, the upshot is, even though 120GB might seem like a lot at first glance, it’s probably worth getting an even bigger SSD if you can afford it, particularly if you are considering ‘giving it some hammer’ in terms of the amount of stuff you’ll be putting on there and what you’ll be putting it through!

Storage for large files such as text documents, photographs, music and video could be on the more spacious HDD. Space on the SSD is ‘more precious’, and more expensive, for want of better ways of thinking about it – and so storing all of your media on there is going to fill it up far too quickly. Plus, your pictures, letters, songs and films don’t need to load quite so fast, so they will be fine and still perform well when stored on the HDD.

What is an HDD?
HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive – in other words, what you probably think of when you hear the words Hard Drive. A traditional Hard Drive has moving mechanical components and it stores data on a spinning disc, with a read/write head travelling back and forth across it to access the data. They are available in two common form factors: 2.5 inch (used in laptops) and 3.5 inch (used for desktop computers).

The internals of a Hard Drive (Shutterstock)

Hard Drive vs SSD: Can a computer work without a hard drive?

It’s a pretty basic question – but it’s one worth answering again just as a reminder of how crucial a hard drive is to the whole computer experience! Without a hard drive, a PC can still turn on – but not much else.

However, if the BIOS is configured correctly, other devices in the boot sequence can also be checked for boot files. For example, if a USB stick is listed in your BIOS boot sequence, you can boot an operating system from it without a hard drive. However, that’s not ideal. A hard drive is pretty essential!

So why does a computer need a Hard Drive?

We just mentioned operating systems again. A computer needs an operating system so that users can properly and usefully interact with it. The operating system ‘translates’ keyboard work and mouse movements, and is the engine for the use of software (such as a word processor, video game or the internet). To install an operating system on a computer, a hard drive (or other storage device) is needed. A hard drive is also necessary for the installation of any programs or other files. When downloading files to your computer, they’re permanently stored on your hard drive or another storage medium until you decide to move them or uninstall them.

How does a traditional hard drive work?

Again, this is covered elsewhere in Ebuyer content, but it’s worth going over again here, briefly, as a Hard Drive vs SSD comparison. Let’s look at the way a traditional hard drive works when writing, storing or reading data.

As we just mentioned, a traditional hard drive contains one (or more) platters, housed inside a casing. Data is written to (or read from) the platters using a magnetic head which moves rapidly over them as they spin. All of the information saved and stored on a traditional hard drive is created / stored as a vast series / sequence of complex magnetic polarities (one side of the polarity is 0 and the other is 1).

For the computer to write information to the hard drive’s platter the read/write head aligns the magnetic polarities, and writes 0s and 1s that can be read later. When the computer needs to read data from the hard drive it reads the magnetic polarities as binary and the computer is able to ‘decode them’ (a simplistic but accurate way of putting it) and figure out what the data is.

So what are the benefits of a traditional Hard Drive?

In operating terms HDDs are definitely slower than SSDs when reading and writing data, as we have covered elsewhere in this article – but it’s a fact that for some people the difference in speed may actually not be a particular concern. The main benefit of a traditional hard drive, in some circumstances, may be that you get more space for your money.

An external Hard Drive (Shutterstock)

Hard Drive vs SSD: Expansion

At current consumer hardware levels, a hard drive is capable of storing more data than any other drive. However, older hard drives had a storage size measured in the hundreds of MB (megabytes) and up to several GB (gigabytes). But newer hard drives have a storage size of several hundred GB to several TB (terabytes). That’s a very large amount of space and if you are an average to heavy user of media you should pretty much be able to store all of your collection. A film of two hours at HD quality takes up around 4GB. A three to four minute song in MP3 at 320kbps quality is around 5MB. 

Each year, new and improved technology allows for increasing hard drive storage sizes. Extra storage can also be fitted in to your system without the necessity of dismantling your desktop PC for installation. You can connect up an external hard drive which will give you plenty of options for expansion. Drives of this nature are available in many sizes – from a few hundred GB up to 8TB and beyond.

Although most SSDs and HDs are internal, you can purchase these stand-alone storage devices without breaking your bank. They are reasonably priced and can back up the data on computers and expand the available storage space extremely easily. External drives are most often stored in a hard case that helps protect the drive and has a port to allow it to interface with your computer (usually via USB, eSATA, or FireWire).

Hard Drive vs SSD: So which drive do I actually need?

Most brand-new laptops and PCs on the market are supplied with a hybrid drive system – that’s to say, they have been fitted with both an SSD and an HDD. However, if your new laptop or PC only has one drive then chances are, these days, that it’s an SSD. If you have an older computer with an HDD and would like to speed up your system then the way to go is to install an SSD. They’re relatively inexpensive, and easy to fit.

Making the right choice when ‘upgrading’ can, of course, depend on how you classify yourself as a computer user. For instance, if you are a gamer then the combination of an SSD and HDD is going to ensure a really quick-response system. This will help you maximise your gameplay and also offer you plenty of storage space for game saves etc. In combination with a really powerful GPU and high-end monitor you’ll be winning everything in no time! (We’re going to look a little more in-depth at this hybrid approach in the next section).

If you think of yourself as a casual user, someone who has a PC at home and uses it for home accounts, a bit of letter writing, storing family photos, using the internet for social media, some video streaming, that sort of thing, then you will probably find an HDD is more than adequate. For those people who use a PC or laptop when they are working from home then, again, an HDD may be perfectly adequate.

SSD or HDD – or both? Conclusion…

When thinking about SSDs and HDDs, there are numerous things to consider than just the device’s storage capacity and its cost. Other crucial factors in the debate Hard Drive vs SSD are reliability, speed and power usage – all of these can combine to greatly affect the ‘smoothness’ of your overall experience. Hopefully we have covered these in this article and you’re now much more confident about knowing what you’re on the lookout for!

Whether you are looking to build a desktop PC and want to undertake the installation of a new HDD or SSD (or both), or whether you are looking for the external units as extra storage options for your data, Ebuyer can help with your purchase. We stock a vast range of all of these items, so check out our website.

Most Popular

To Top