Storage is an important part of any computer. Whether storing a spreadsheet on your PC or saving photos to your laptop, it’s likely that you use either an SSD or HDD every day without even knowing it. However, when upgrading or buying a new device, it’s important to understand the difference and the benefits of each.
HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), most commonly called hard drives, have been in use since 1956. This relatively ancient technology is still the most commonly used storage option, even after being first introduced to IBM over 60 years ago. Hard drives can store up to 10Tb of data, which is read using magnetism between a spinning disk and a read-write arm. Think of it like a vinyl record, but which stores a lot more information in a much smaller place.
In contrast, an SSD (Solid State Drive) has no moving parts, but instead uses a series of microchips to store the data. Therefore, the data needed can be gathered much more quickly and efficiently. However, this does come at a cost.
Both forms of non-volatile storage – the storage of data which is kept even when the machine is not in use, as opposed to RAM – have their benefits and should be considered carefully when being upgraded or replaced. The table below compares some of the key features between the two technologies.
2TB maximum for laptops, 10TB maximum for desktops
1TB maximum for laptops, 4TB maximum for desktops
Average of around 35 Seconds
Average of around 10 seconds
Up to 120MB/S
Up to 550MB/s
Slower than SSD
Up to 30% faster than HDD
Vibration of moving parts causes sound
No moving parts so no sound produced
Data can be erased by magnets
Not affected by magnetism
The biggest advantage of hard drives is simply that they are bigger, in storage terms at least. A hard drive can store up to 10TB of data, whereas the maximum for an SSD is 4TB. Even so, SSDs are much faster to open files and complete processes. A good analogy is by comparing data to information in a book. Hard drive storage is the equivalent of walking over to a bookshelf and searching for the piece of information you need, whereas an SSDis like having the book already open on your desk. There is a lot more effort needed by the machine to retrieve data from a hard drive, and so takes more time. However, this ‘bookshelf’ can hold a lot more information than just one book.
Other factors for consideration relate to the mechanism of the hard drive. The rotating disk in a hard drive, with the associated parts, can cause issues with the running of the machine. The vibration of the spinning disk causes an audible sound and produces heat. This can be a distraction when working, whereas SSDs are silent due to the absence of moving parts. This also means that hard drives are more susceptible to damage from improper handling.Although they are more robust than other components, if a hard drive is dropped it can be damaged. Similarly, as the disk and arm transfer data through magnetism, contact with an external magnet can corrupt the data stored on the drive.
To combat the slower speed which comes with higher memory storage, hybrid drives are also available. This storage method uses hard drives to store a large amount of data, but also have SSDs which can load certain pieces quickly. These often-used programmes, such as the operating system boot, will therefore have the speed advantage of running on SSD but the overall storage will still be at the greater level associated with hard drives. Using an external hard drive is also another way of increasing the storage capacity of a device. These can be in SSD or hard drive forms and vary in price and capacity. Online storage through a cloud service is also a good way to keep files, as long as there is a strong and reliable internet connection when the files need to be accessed.