SSDs vs. HDDs: security, speed, price

  • Solid State Drives (SSDs) are faster and more secure than traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs).
  • On the other hand, hard drives tend to be cheaper than newer solid state drives.
  • The best computer setups use both SSDs and HDDs in one system.

In the past, all you had to consider when purchasing a storage drive for your computer was its size. But now you have another choice to make: Do you want a

solid state drive

, a hard drive or both? It’s not always an easy question, especially when you don’t know the difference between SSDs and HDDs.

Here’s a comparison between both types of storage drives, along with a solid answer for anyone unsure what to buy.

What is the difference between SSDs and HDDs?

First, let’s take a second to talk about how the two types actually work.

Hard drives store your data on a magnetic disk. When you need to access the data, the platter spins, and small arms called “read and write heads” move across the platter to convert its magnetic field into an electric current. This stream is then translated into a digital signal, which your computer understands as data.

In contrast, Solid State Drives have no moving parts. Your data is stored in “solid” silicon semiconductors that transmit and send electrical currents so your computer can read them.

SSDs like these are often much smaller than hard drives.

Andrii Atanov/Getty Images

But what does that mean in practice? The short answer is that solid-state drives are almost always safer and faster—but hard drives have their advantages, too. Here’s a breakdown.

SSDs are more secure than HDDs because they don’t move

The arm of a hard disk drive can move at a distance of less than 10 nanometers above the magnetic disk. That’s a thousand times thinner than even a strand of hair. This gives you fast access to your data and keeps the hard drives compact enough to fit in your computer.

But if the arm ever gets jostled and touches the disc, even for a millisecond – you get what’s known as a “head crash.” The arm scrapes across the platter, tearing through the magnetic coating and destroying every bit of stored data in its path. Most head crashes damage the entire hard drive, rendering it unusable.

Head crashes usually happen when a user drops their laptop and shakes the inside

hard disk

. Many modern systems have “park” features that detect when the laptop is bumped and lock the arm away from the hard drive. But even with these safety precautions, accidents happen.

Internal parts of a hard drive isolated on a white background.

The read and write head of the hard drive moves just above the platter.

HK Singh/Shutterstock

Solid state drives don’t have to worry about such crashes. Because they have no moving parts, there is no risk of one part colliding with another. They also use less energy, meaning they produce less heat but can process more.

This makes SSDs much better suited to “extreme and harsh environments” where they may need to withstand “accidental drops and other shocks, vibration, extreme temperatures and magnetic fields,” according to Steve Chang, president of ASUS Computer International.

For this reason, most external hard drives are solid state. They are durable and less prone to mechanical failure.

SSDs can load and save data faster than HDDs

While security is great, the number one reason most people make the switch to solid-state drives is their speed. SSDs are exponentially faster than most HDDs, making them a great choice for anyone who multitasks.

The exact timing between SSDs and HDDs depends on a variety of factors. But a speed test provided to us by ASUS shows that a sample hard drive takes about “10 milliseconds to read and write” a piece of data, while a sample SSD reads and writes the same data “within a few microseconds”. For reference, each millisecond equals a thousand microseconds.

Again, much of that speed comes from the lack of moving parts. Because you don’t have to wait for a hard drive to start spinning or an arm to convert signals, your SSD can get the data it needs much faster.

Chang also notes that while HDD arms can only read part of their platter at a time, “an SSD can read multiple flash chips and fetch data in parallel,” meaning it can handle many data requests at once.

You’ll probably notice the speed of your SSD the most when you turn on your computer. Loading your operating system from a solid state drive can cut boot times in half, if not more. And the time between seeing your desktop and actually using the computer is also shrinking.

Speed ​​and security are the two main benefits of an SSD. But HDDs have their advantages, especially if you want to save money.

HDDs tend to be cheaper and larger than SSDs — but that could change

Hard drives have been around for over 50 years, and designers have innovated them in every imaginable way. This means that, on average, you can buy hard drives with a lot more storage space for a lot less money.

For example, let’s compare the Western Digital Blue Desktop Hard Drive to the Western Digital Blue SN570 NVMe Solid State Drive. Here are their price points for the same amount of storage, taken from Western Digital’s official website:

Single hard drives also offer higher maximum capacities than solid state drives. Western Digital’s most popular SSD, the WD BLACK SN850, can grow up to 2TB. Meanwhile, their most popular hard drive, the WD Red Plus NAS, can grow up to 14TB (for just $299!).

It is true that solid state drives gradually fall in price over time. Kyle DeWitt, vice president of technical services at IT firm ScanSource, tells Insider that as SSD manufacturers work to “shrink component sizes and get more out of silicon,” we get “more storage at lower prices “ will see , and in smaller devices.”

But as of this writing, HDDs are hard to beat in terms of price and storage size. If you don’t care about speed and just want a lot of storage space for a low price (perhaps for archiving purposes), look at hard drives.

You can mix and match SSDs and HDDs for the best experience

If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll likely have to choose between a solid state drive and a hard disk drive. But most new computer motherboards reserve space for both SSD chips and HDDs. So if you have a bit more cash, you can probably use both types of storage at the same time.

By combining SSDs and HDDs, you can “enjoy the best of both worlds,” says Chang. “[You] can have more space for large media files on HDDs such as videos, and access important files faster on SSDs.”

In other words, if you keep the files and apps you use every day – like your internet browser or your music – on the SSD, you can always open them quickly. But you can keep those large files that you don’t use that often on the hard drive, saving you disk space and having the files close at hand when you need them.

And Windows makes it a breeze to move files between the two drives. All you have to do is drag and drop them around as if you were switching folders.

In our experience, one of the best ways to take advantage of this two-drive setup is to install your operating system on the SSD. This might take up a lot of space, but it makes turning on your computer a lightning-fast process.

A solid state drive and hard disk drive sit next to a computer tower.

Using SSDs and HDDs in tandem is a great idea.

Damrong Rattanapong/Shutterstock

Insider tip: SSDs are worth the extra cost

No matter who you are, you need a place to store all your data. It’s gear worth investing in – and that’s why most users are better off with a solid-state drive if you have to choose between the two types of storage.

They’re faster and more secure for everyday use, and when paired with a traditional hard drive, they can really help get the most out of your setup.

If you’re looking for new devices, check out brands like Western Digital, Samsung, and Corsair. They will sell you SSD chips that will surely speed up your workflow.

Dave Johnson contributed to an earlier version of this article.

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