Also known as a solid state drive, the SSD is one of the most well-known alternatives to an HDD. The latter is, however, the typical storage component that most computers and laptops come with – a hard disk drive. While the default option is always safe to go along, you should also know the advantages, and disadvantages of the other side. Solid state drives are sturdy, blazing fast, and also quite expensive. But are they truly worth the hustle?
There is no short answer to the previous question, since every buyer has its own needs, as well as preferences and an established budget. Therefore, we’re going to look at all the aspects involved right in the lines below. At the end of the day, you should have a general idea established and who knows, maybe you’ll even jump the bandwagon.
What is an SSD?
A solid-state drive is a device created to store data on your computer. Some tend to confuse it with a flash drive, but this only happens because it looks like a bigger and much more complex version of the more familiar USB stick. There are some similarities between the two of them, since they both have no moving parts, as opposed to an HDD.
However, the SSD itself takes advantage of solid-state memory in order to store as much data as possible. Being a younger brother of the HDD, this one became known quite late during the 2000s. For example, you might know that the ancient OLPC XO-1 SSD from 2007 used to have a 1 GB as its storage device. Since that time and until nowadays, though, these drives came to be much more developed and better at storing files.
Instead of using spinning magnetic platter like its older brother, the SSD is based on memory chips or something that you might know under the name NAND-based flash memory. This makes data safer, because it becomes non-volatile, so the disk itself won’t forget about it once it’s switched off.
And apart from sheer speed and other obvious advantages, it looks like there’s a lot of things to look forward to. As Anandtech reports, it seems that one could save up to $600 per year for every device they use an SSD one. This would come from things like a laptop with a longer lifecycle, better performance, less power consumption, but also a longer battery life and many others that you can discover here.
What is an HDD?
Enough about SSDs, though – let’s talk about its ancient version, the HDD. This one is the hard disk drive – a storage device that entered the computing market in 1956. That’s when it was introduced by IBM to store files on computers using magnetism and a rotating platter.
From a simple technology, it quickly turned into something pretty big, as an HDD these days can even store as much as a Terabyte of data. This isn’t at all unexpected for a laptop, and it can even get larger in the case of desktop computers.
However, capacity isn’t everything – HDDs are now broadly available, as you can buy one from Toshiba, Samsung, Hitachi and basically any well-known brand that you can think of. Having evolved quite a bit since their original version was created, they can easily keep a computer running and the users happy. The main issue with them is the slow speed, the noise created and the fact that they are slowly vanishing from the market.
Comparison Table SSD vs HDD
|Mechanism||Solid NAND Flash||Magnetic rotating platters|
|Speed (SATA II)||80-250MB/sec||65-85MB/sec|
|Average Seek Time||0||<10ms|
|Power consumption||2W>, Low power consumption||10W, Generates more heat|
|Endurance||MTBF > 2,000,000 Hours||MTBF < 700,000 Hours|
|Temperature||-40 ~ 85||0 ~ 60|
|Shock & Vibration||Excellent||Poor|
|Cost per capacity||$0.45/GB||$0.05/GB for 3.5-inch &
$0.10/GB for 2.5-inch
What’s interesting about an SSD?
SSD has quite a bit to offer, as you might have already seen. However, it might not be for everyone, since it costs a lot – prices can get over $400 quite easily, and it doesn’t support very big files. This being said, you will most probably get about 1 TB storage space on some of the best ones. Of course, cheaper variants are also available, but prices do tend to get lower with drastic storage cuts.
It is also not as widely available as the HDD, but there are many other things that are good about it. For example, it doesn’t use so much power, which means that your laptop’s battery will last about half an hour longer or even more.
It’s also known to boot the OS a lot faster; therefore, no matter what kind of operating system you have, it can’t take more than 15 seconds to boot. Speed is inevitably an important aspect when it comes to opening files or copying some, as it goes well beyond 200 MBps or even up to 550 MBps for some of the disks.
Now the tricky thing with an SSD, which used to be quite a problem in its young stages, it’s the actual lifespan of the device. Unlike the HDD, where the only thing to worry is that one day, the drive may stop running for no reason at all, the SSD has a “limited” operating duration. Why the traditional quotes? Well, newer generation drives have a usage cycle that is usually around ten years, so end users actually don’t have to worry about this downside. Still, the memory itself is structured in a way in which tiny blocks of memory are filled, one by one, with useful information. If an error occurs during the writing of data, this sector may become unusable, thus shortening the life of the SSD.
To overcome this risk, hardware manufacturers have introduced various wear leveling techniques, which prevent errors and increase the life. Although these techniques are dynamic, and automated, those truly passionate can take advantage of Trim commands (otherwise known as TRIM). In a few words, when a file is deleted, either by the user itself or by the OS, a TRIM command will let the SSD know that the particular data sector should no longer be written, thus sparing one reading cycle. The downside is that these commands are SSD and OS specific, and when used frequently, they do more harm, then good.
Another powerful feature, though, as far as I see it, is the fact that data is protected from magnetism. Since this drive uses memory chips to store the files, there is no chance of losing documents over-night, as everything you save onto it is non-volatile.
Ups and Downs of the HDD
One of the most obvious things when it comes to the HDD is its size. It is true that having a moving arm that operates the data from the spinning platters automatically means more space required. This isn’t the only bad thing about it, though, since the HDD also draws more power resulting in a battery that will last a lot less (6 to 7 Watts is the average).
Apart from that, it has been proved a couple of times that it takes longer to boot the operating system using an HDD – up to 40 seconds compared to 10 using the SSD. Having spinning platters also adds up to the noise that was already made by the clicks, so this kind of drive can get pretty noisy.
It generally takes a bit longer to open or copy files, too, and the data is not as safe as it would be on an SSD. This happens due to the magnetism technology used to save files, as magnets can sometimes delete files without you doing anything wrong.
On the other hand, though, we all know that an HDD costs a lot less – somewhere around $70-$80 or a little more for the better performing ones. Encryption is another thing to look at, since some of the models support FDE – what is known as Full Disk Encryption.
Also, if you have a large number of documents to store on the computer, you might want to look at an HDD. This one is better in terms of capacity, as it can come with a maximum of 2 TB for laptops, but it gets much higher in the case of a PC – as much as 6 TB.
As we mentioned before, availability is another important aspect here. Since the HDD is the old and well-known drive that everyone used in the past, it’s inevitable not to have it offered by a wild number of tech companies all over the world.
Price versus Performance
When it comes to choosing the right device for storing your data on a PC, the real dilemma usually has to do with price and performance. It is hard to choose between the two, given how incredibly high the price for an SSD is and how huge the differences are in terms of speed.
If you’re not looking for something that will make your computer really fast and less noisy, though, and especially if you have a lot of files to deal with, an HDD could also be a really good option. The really important thing to look at is that the SSD can perform even when the laptop is being moved or bounced around, it has no moving parts that can be damaged in time and makes storage safer.
You can take a look at the Youtube video below to gain a better understanding of the differences between the two.
The video comes from ASUS comparing the boot times for the ASUS U36SD-A1 with 640 GB HDD ($899) vs. the ASUS U36SD-XA1 with 160 GB SSD ($1099).
A summary, though, would be the following: if you’d rather go for a lower price – choose the HDD; if performance really matters to you, choose the other one. If you want something in the middle, then you might want to take a look at the following section.
The Alternative – what about an SSHD?
One thing that not many of you might know of is that you don’t necessarily have to choose between an SSD and an HDD. You can also easily go for something in between – a hybrid. The latter is an SSHD, also known as a solid-state hybrid drive.
As a hybrid in its true form, the SSHD actually operates by using the same structure build of the SSD, but also adding the increase storage capacity of a conventional HDD. For instance, conventional SSHD models combine 8 GB of NAND storage (SSD like) with a larger HDD. The working principle is rather simple: the system learns what files / applications you use the most (either automatically or user-configured) and then moves them to the “SSD”-part, allowing these files to be loaded faster. It is also faster at launching the OS than the old HDD is, as you can see in the video below.
This video compares boot time of identical Dell Optiplex 7010 USFF PCs on SSD, SSHD and HDD.
Price is also somewhere in the middle – around $200-$300 at most, and you can easily improve your battery life if you’re going for this one. In case you had an HDD before, you’ll also notice that it’s faster to copy and open the folders and files on your laptop. The difference is usually two, up to three times faster than a conventional disk.
This one can only be used on one device, but there are a few options in terms of hybrids that can also be used to mix the SSD and HDD a lot better. For example, a dual drive would be used on a host computer to control both types of devices via SATA.
There’s no gentle way of saying this. Buy an SSD, it’s worth the investment. From my personal experience, I used to have a pretty speedy laptop, with a quad-core i7 of the latest generation and a rendering GPU that made gaming worth while. The downside was the HDD. It was an old, dusted 5400 RPM from Toshiba which coughed even when I was downloading big files (it needed around 15 minutes to allocate the space for 20 GB of files for example, time in which my PC was frozen).
After investing quite a lot into a sufficient SSD, everything was a breeze. My Windows 8 already booted in about 5 seconds, but applications now started to behave properly. It’s truly a joy to see Photoshop opened and loaded in under 15 seconds.
As for the hybrid variant, I personally haven’t tried it, but due to the low storage of the actual fast component (8 GB), I trust it’s not worth the hustle of changing your current HDD. Of course, if it comes by default, it’s truly welcomed.