The Differences Between an SSD and HDD

November 19, 2015 | By Mason Dunlap | PCDIY

Perhaps you’re building a new PC, or maybe your PC’s old hard drive recently gave out, and you are in need of a new storage component. If you’re in the market for one, you might be staring down these two terms: HDD and SSD. This article will cover the differences between these two types of components, as well as provide some guidelines regarding which might be best for you.

Because ultimately, whether you should choose HDD or SSD is based largely upon your personal needs.

The Terms: What Do They Mean?

Acronyms are cool and all, but what exactly does HDD stand for? What about SSD? Let’s break them apart really quickly and get to the real meat and potatoes (Quick disclaimer: please don’t break apart your storage devices. You will not find dinner inside).

HDD: HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive. This particular storage technology has been around since the mid-1950s, and desktop versions come in a form factor of 3.5”. As you may have already surmised, the “Disk” in the name refers to its basic construction. HDDs are comprised of spinning disks, or “platters,” upon which data is written and read from. Yes, I know I say platters, but seriously, these are for storing data, not food.

A mechanical arm extends above each platter, and it both reads and writes the data stored on these spinning disks. As such, speed is the name of the game when it comes to HDDs. Platters that rotate at greater rates perform better than their slower counterparts. If you are seeking performance as well as storage space, I recommend looking at HDD models that spin at 7200RPM.

Storage Space: Speaking of storage space, this is one of the major benefits of HDD technology. In addition to costing less money than SSDs, most HDDs these days commonly have capacities ranging anywhere from 1-6TB. Most large SSDs available to consumers like you and me hover in the 1TB range at most.

Noise and Durability: However, HDDs are not without their tradeoffs. As a result of the spinning platter and mechanical arm construction, HDDs produce audible clicks and whirs as these components move around. They can even produce felt vibrations as the platters reach tops speeds. A mass of moving parts also equates to increased risk of something breaking inside the HDD. Think about having an object comprised entirely of one piece of solid metal, or an object comprised of multiple pieces of metal held together by screws. An HDD is like the latter – more things are inside that might break.

Speed: Another thing worth noting is that the platters inside HDDs need to get up to speed in order to deliver optimal performance results. As nice as it would be, an HDD platter doesn’t go from 0 to 7200RPM in the blink of an eye when you fire up your PC. It takes a little bit of time to reach top speed, and this translates to relatively slower boot-up times compared to PCs using SSDs. When performing operations such as data reading and writing, the mechanical arm in an HDD needs to move to the proper location over the platter, and the correct space on the platter also needs to be rotated in place beneath it. In the amount of time it takes for these elements to align in an HDD, an SSD may have already completed the same operation.

SSD: SSD stands for Solid State Drive. Notice how there’s no “disk” in this one’s title. This is because rather than using platters, SSDs utilize microchips and NAND-based flash memory technology for storing data. If that sounds flashy and fancy compared to platters and mechanical arms, that’s because it is; SSD technology is simply newer. Drives are typically found in 2.5” form factor. SSDs contain zero moving parts, and this translates to a number of benefits.

Noise and Durability: Because data is stored on microchips rather than dinner plat—I mean platters, SSDs are far more resistant to damage incurred from jostling. Unlike with HDDs, there’s no chance of a disk containing data getting cracked or shattering after your friend accidently bumps your PC (we’ll refer to them as “Former-friend A” from this point forward). So, in terms of failure rates for both data storage components and friendships, SSDs are a great long-term solution. No moving parts mean fewer chances that something will break. It also means that SSDs are silent – no audible clicks and whirs like HDDs produce.

Speed: Another defining characteristic of SSDs is their ability to read, write, and open files quickly. They are like the AP Honors students of Data Storage Academy (not a real place. I think). Again, this is because data is stored in microchips, and SSDs utilize brainy processors that perform the major operations of the drive. This is opposed to HDDs that rely on a mechanical arm to move around a spinning disk to locate data at certain points. And again, that disk needs to reach a certain speed in order to perform optimally. No spin-up times with an SSD means very little delay in data retrieval and writing.

What does this mean? It means your PC will boot up much faster than it would with an HDD. You can open files, load games, and perform other tasks with your applications quicker. The tradeoff? Storage space.

Storage Space: Presently, SSDs are unable to store data amounts approaching that of HDDs while maintaining low prices. For the average consumer, most SSDs are available with maximum capacities around the 1TB mark. However, even these SSD models are still much more expensive than an HDD of comparable size. You simply have to pay more money for the same amount of storage space. However, as SSD technology advances, we should see maximum capacities increase while costs simultaneously fall below the Maybe-I-Should-Sell-My-Blood-Because-Gaming-PC threshold.

Yes, It’s Possible to Build a Gaming PC for Grownups

Which is the Best Choice for You?

Now that we’ve looked at the characteristics of the two storage component types, you might be wondering which you should choose. The short flurry of dinner platter puns may have you a bit unsure about your decision-making (after all, you have read my article this far), and both storage types largely utilize the SATA interface for connecting to PC motherboards. Allow me to help you get through checkout with the proper device by boxing this one up for the road (send help, I can’t stop).

Menu Item #1: HDD
Simply, if you require a lot of storage space, then HDD is worth your consideration. Maybe you collect large amounts of music or movies, or you produce large files like videos and graphics. HDDs are great for holding large volumes of data. Whatever your reasons, if you need a way to store a good deal of data on your PC, the sheer capacity that HDDs offer makes them a good candidate.

Additionally, HDDs tend to cost less money than SSDs, so if you are building on a budget, HDDs are a great choice. Be sure to try to shoot for a drive with a high rotation speed, such as 7200RPM. This will help ensure that you not only have a good deal of space to store your data, but you are also able to retrieve it quickly when you need it.

Menu Item #2: SSD
SSDs are more expensive, so should you spend the money? If you place great value on your PC’s speed, the answer might just be yes (provided your wallet isn’t ready to walk out the door and take Benjamin and the other kids with it). Gamers, video editors, and graphic designers like myself will appreciate the speed that SSDs offer, since loading screens aren’t things we tend to be fans of. An SSD can honestly mean the difference between completing a project on time and missing your deadline. Your PC will start up and load applications faster, equating to less unnecessary downtime and more time working or gaming.

If noise is a concern of yours, SSDs are definitely the quieter option. Perhaps you perform audio recordings or are a Twitch live streamer; you will appreciate the silent nature of SSDs so that you aren’t worrying about the annoying clicks and spinning sounds produced by HDDs.

Yes, It’s Possible to Build a Gaming PC for Grownups

The Choice is Yours

In summation, if you want your PC to perform its data storage-related operations faster and quieter, SSD is the way to go. You will have to find a way to work around the more limited storage capacities, but many will argue that SSDs are worth the extra effort. You might even be able to start considering salvaging your friendship with Former-friend A with this durable storage drive.

For those who are on a budget or require more storage space than SSDs presently provide, HDDs offer great value. You get a lot of capacity for your money, at the tradeoffs of speed, durability, and quietness. But if you can’t afford to lose out on the storage space, HDDs really are a great choice.

Ultimately, which storage method you select should depend on what you need to get out of your hard drive. If budget is not an issue, the biggest factors in my mind are speed and storage capacity. As a gamer, I give the nod to SSDs for their speed, and you can check out what a glorious melding of SSD and NZXT Noctis 450 looks like in this blog post featuring photos from year’s BlizzCon!

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Mason Dunlap

Mason Dunlap

Mason “MasonRL90” is a Social Media Specialist, Rocket League Ops, and Influencer Program Manager at NZXT. His goal is to grow the Rocket League community through great content and personal involvement in the scene.