Every computer has some type of basic, permanent storage used to store any data, whether documents, photos, program files, or anything else. Traditionally, this type of storage has come in the form of a hard drive disk – or HDD for short – a metal disk with a magnetic coating. To read or write data stored on an HDD, a physical arm moves across the spinning disk to read from or make changes to the magnetic coating that stores the information.
Solid state drives – or SSDs – are a relatively new type of storage device that does everything that traditional HDDs do in a faster and safer way. Instead of a physical disk and moving parts, SSDs use digital flash memory chips to store data. The flash storage technologies used inside an SSD are similar to the one found in flash drives, but are typically faster and more robust.
HDDs and SSDs both do the same job, but they do so in very different ways. So what are their advantages and disadvantages?
The main advantage SSDs have over HDDs is speed. Since an SSD has no moving parts, it is able to read and write data much faster than an HDD, which has to physically spin the disk and move the arm in order to access data. In actual use, this means that computers equipped with an SSD will boot up, launch programs, and open files much quicker than ones with traditional hard drives. In fact, SSDs are so fast that a computer with one can almost always start up (after being shut down) in less than a minute, and often in a matter of seconds. And everyday computer use, from browsing the web to writing a document, is made exponentially faster with an SSD.
SSDs have a number of other benefits as well. Since they do not contain any moving parts, they are much quieter and are harder to damage than HDDs. SSDs are also more optimized for storing large files as the drives get filled up.
Of course, SSDs are not better in every way, with HDDs still having a few key advantages. Because SSDs are a new and still emerging technology, they are much more expensive than HDDs. For example, a 1TB HDD costs around $50 (at of the time of writing), whereas an SSD of the same size costs a whopping $279. Additionally, hard drives are capable of much having much higher capacity than solid state drives at the moment – a single SSD so far has only, at most, 4 terabytes of storage space (for over $1,400), while HDDs go far beyond that. These two differences are important factors if an inexpensive drive that still has a large capacity is needed.
To combine the advantages of both HDDs and SSDs, some computers use a hybrid approach with both an HDD and an SSD. In this case, the higher volume hard drive is used for storing files that can be accessed less quickly, like large movies, pictures, and other general documents. The SSD is used for higher priority files, like program files and the operating system itself. That way, the computer is able to boot up and launch programs very quickly, while still having a large storage capacity.
So which one is right for you? That depends on what you are going to do with your computer, as well as how much you willing to spend. Luckily, over the coming years, the price of SSDs will be rapidly decreasing, while their capacities will be rapidly increasing. Hopefully, this will lead to widespread adoption of this faster, safer, and higher performance technology, which will in turn lead to an all around better computing experience for everyone.