Hard Drive vs. Solid State Drive: Pros and Cons of Using Each
Determining the superiority of SSD versus HDD requires you to define exactly what better means in your particular case. While for some “better” means faster or more reliable, others prefer to compare dollars and cents rather than improved performance or storage capacity increase.
In an ideal world, you could have them both installed on your machine for massive storage and fast load times. However, not every computer is designed to house two storage units at once, and certainly not every budget will suit such an investment. So, the succinct overview of the pros and cons of SSDs below should help you to figure out how they stack up against HDDs and determine which option best meets your particular requirements.
What Is HDD?
HDD, short for the hard disk drive, is a hardware device designed for storing and retrieving computer data. It consists of moving elements, comprising a head actuator, read-and-write actuator arm, and, most importantly, platters that are basically responsible for storing your information. The drive accesses data by reading itself using an actuator arm with read/write heads that hover at a height of about 3nm (30 atoms) above the platter, instead of actually touching its surface. This type of storage is magnetic and requires moving parts.
- Storage capacity up to 16 TB
- Up to 160 MB per second read/write speed
- Mean time between failure rate of 1 million hours
- Cost per gigabyte estimated to be $0.1 by 2022
What Is SSD?
A solid-state drive, or SSD, is a type of storage device most commonly found in tablets and laptops. Instead of magnets or moving components, SSDs rely on a flash memory controller and memory chip to store data, which provides significantly faster computing speeds and is the reason this type of media increasingly gains popularity among individuals and business owners alike. Its design also uses metal-oxide semiconductors known as floating-gate transistors, which essentially hold an electrical charge even when the device is not plugged in.
- Storage capacity up to 16 TB
- Up to 550 MB per second read/write speed
- Mean time between failure rate of 1.5 million hours
- Cost per gigabyte anywhere between $11 and $30
Performance. Whereas hard drives may be better at handling large files, SSDs are all about little data transactions that happen all the time as your operating system is run. When a background task is performed, an instant message comes through, or a program launches, it requires access to a ton of small files located all over the place. Free from the need to physically fidget across disc surface, SSDs can reach desired pieces of information instantly, offering exceptional performance for computing that requires enhanced multitasking capabilities. As a result, a machine with a solid-state drive will be much snappier in launching apps and programs, and also faster when booting.
Bottom line: Unless you copy large files back and forth all day long, a modern SSD will provide several times better performance than any hard drive, and thus utterly outperform HDDs in terms of system responsiveness.
Capacity. Since there are no significant differences in storage capacity, you can get HDDs and SSDs in similar sizes. Commonly the range is 128 GB to 2 TB, and if you ever need to radically free up space, you can easily format your drive — no matter if it’s an HDD or SSD.
Reliability. HDDs are considered to be quite reliable these days. Yet, as is expected of devices with such a fragile design, they are highly susceptible to many external factors, including physical damage (caused by knocks, drops, vibration or so), water and fire damage, excessive humidity, overheating, etc. Damage to the platter, in turn, poses the most dangerous case of hard drive breakage, as just a couple of scratches may result in data being impossible to restore.
The entire lack of moving parts in solid-state drives implies they are able to withstand life’s small accidents much better compared to their hard disk counterpart — excluding overheating and power surges, which can lead not only to the degradation of the drive but also to its complete failure.
Along with that, SSD cells have a limited lifespan (where a cell can typically survive about 3000 write cycles in modern devices). While reading from solid-state drives a lot won’t really wear them out very much, writing to them heavily contributes to wear and tear, and can kill a consumer-grade model relatively quickly. Finally, if left without power, worn out SSDs typically start to lose data after about one to two years in storage, depending on temperature.
Bottom line: In an environment where impact and shock is more or less an everyday occurrence, such as in laptops or tablets, investing in an SSD would clearly be the smarter decision; in an environment where it’s not the case, the reliability of a good ol’ HDD should be more than enough.
Pricing. When it comes to storing vast amounts of data — and it’s not like playing back videos, music files, or rummaging through photo archives that require blazing fast performance — hard disk drives still excel. Even though the price of SSDs has dropped dramatically over the past five years, the cheapest 1 TB internal 2.5-inch solid-state device will cost about $100, while a hard drive of the same capacity and form factor can be bought for between $40 and $60. For that kind of difference in price per gigabyte, you can literally build two hard-drive-based storage boxes and have one of them set up as an off-site backup with the money that you saved by not investing in SSD based backup solution, which means we’re a long way away from HDDs being replaced by solid-state drives.
Bottom line: SSDs are much more expensive than hard drives in terms of dollar per gigabyte. With this in mind, hard drives are the best solution for long-term backup storage.
When Businesses Can Benefit from SSD
The fact remains that SSDs can be of far greater benefit to individual business users than they can be to entire enterprises. Here are some of the categories of users most likely to benefit from machines with solid-state technology:
- Photographers using high-end editing software;
- Videographers and filmmakers working with high bandwidth editing software;
- Musicians using high-end recording and producing programs;
- Remote workers performing a high volume of data transfers;
- In-the-field workers dependent on reliable performance and shock-resistant technology;
- And (finally!) dedicated gamers.
Despite the fact that today solid-state drives surpass hard drives by a significant margin in a number of criteria, the latter is definitely in the lead when it comes to pricing. With this in mind, we recommend that our readers approach the purchase of a suitable device with proper prioritization, as it can not only help you save money, but also ensure that important data is adequately secure.