If you’re in the market for a new computer, you’ve probably been searching high and low for the latest and greatest features that will make your new purchase the best it can be. You may even have seen that some PCs now come with a choice of hard drive type: the ‘traditional’ hard disk drive (HDD), or the relatively new solid-state drive (SSD). Faced with this choice, lots of computer buyers will end up puzzled, and have no idea what makes each of the choices different or better. SSD drives are not yet standard in PC shops, and you’re far more likely to encounter conventional HDDs in new builds; however there are a few reasons that you may want to switch to SSD at some point in the future. So whether you’re about to buy new or you’re looking for the future of hard disk storage, let’s take a look at the differences between HDD and SSD, and which of them is best for you and your needs.
What is a hard disk drive?
A conventional HDD is, in a way, a ‘mechanical’ storage solution. The reason for this is that these drives are made up of a physical disk, with a needle that ‘scratches’ the data onto it. This is a simplified version of what goes on inside an HDD, but it does explain the sound that you hear when a drive is reading or being written to. The noise is actually just the movement of the magnetic arm (known as a ‘head’) as it moves to various points of the disk (known as a ‘platter’) and stores data in binary form by flipping theoretical switches. The read and write process of an HDD can be quite time-consuming because of the amount of physical movement necessary to read the data. Another down side to HDDs is that they are susceptible to shock damage – drop one and you could lose everything in seconds, and that could result in a big office insurance claim. They also become unreliable over time, and with the arm so close to the platter, ‘scratch’ damage is a real possibility.
What is a solid state drive?
The newer SSD drives have a fundamental difference: data is stored on chips rather than physical disks. These chips are usually flash memory, meaning they’re quicker, lighter, and smaller. There are no moving parts in a SSD drive, so very little chance of shock or physical damage (barring total destruction, of course). Access rates are the same as HDD, however they ‘get up to speed’ instantly, so your boot times will be faster. Flash storage is used everywhere these days: in phones, USB drives, MP3 players, and so on. It’s a technology that’s advancing at a lightning pace, and will no doubt replace HDD storage in a matter of years. The fact that SSD drives are smaller and quieter is just the icing on the cake.
Which should you choose?
The truth is that from a practical point of view, SSD drives are the better choice. They’re smaller, lighter, quieter, and have less chance of accidental damage or wearing out. The amount of data you can store on SSD drives is growing all the time, meaning that inversely the size of computers will be able to come down. At present we’re still reliant on ‘towers’ and other large desktop PCs – with SSD drives in place, these units could be made much smaller.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that your search ends here, but don’t run out and pick up that SSD just yet – there’s one large barrier to entry: price. At the present time, solid state drives can be up to twice as expensive as their HDD counterparts. That means you’ll have to cough up a lot more money for the same amount of storage. So, the bottom line has to be, if money is no object (lucky you), go for a SSD drive. It will serve you well for years to come. On the other hand, if you want an affordable drive that’s still reliable, go for a hard disk drive. You’ll be able to get much more for your money, and the drive will still last for a good few years.