Crucial NVMe SSD installed on a motherboard

When it comes to picking the right data storage, there are two mainstream options available: SSD (Solid State Drives) and HDD (Hard Disk Drives). HDDs have been the go-to storage choice for years, providing a solid balance of storage capacity and price — a balance that has only gotten stronger in recent years. However, SSDs have been catching up of late, offering better value for money. SSD vs HDD is a hot contest right now.

As of now, picking between SSDs and HDDs is quite tricky. While it seems all black and white, there’s no absolute winner in the SSD vs HDD debate and it all comes down to the use cases in question. Let’s dive into the differences between SSD and HDD, and which one would be better for your needs.

SSD vs HDD — What are the differences?

HDDs, also referred to as hard disks, have been the go-to storage solution for years. An HDD has spinning metal platters that have a magnetic coating. The data is stored on these platters, and read with heads mounted on an actuator arm. These heads physically seek the area on the corresponding platters. This means that a hard disk can take quite some time to save and retrieve your data. 

An SSD on the other hand uses a much simpler design. It has a bunch of NAND chips that store the data. These NAND chips are high-speed flash memory chips. However, unlike another popular flash storage technology that is DRAM, NAND chips are not volatile. This means that NAND chips can retain the charge, and thus the data, even when powered off. 

See also: The best hard drives & solid state drives you can buy for the Playstation 5

Due to the presence of moving parts, HDDs are bulkier and heavier. While we have seen hard disks get smaller over the years, they still have the disadvantage of heft. In contrast, SSDs are mostly made out of a thin and lightweight PCB with NAND chips on it. While the SATA SSDs have the typical 2.5-inch form factor for mounting, they’re much lighter than hard disks of the same size.

Speaking of interfaces, HDDs still majorly use the older, slower SATA interface. On the other hand, SSDs have moved on to taking advantage of the high bandwidth that PCI Express provides, with the new NVMe drives. An NVMe SSD thus has better performance in terms of read and write speeds than a typical SATA HDD. 

HDD: Pros and cons

HDDs may seem like an old and obsolete choice for storage, but that is not quite the case. Hard disks are still a great storage solution for many use cases. To begin with, if capacity is your priority, HDDs are the way to go. Hard disks offer a much better value at higher capacities, making them perfect for mass storage.

On the other hand, HDDs are more susceptible to failure. Hard disks have moving parts, which means that a certain amount of shock or vibration can damage one. Magnetic force can also cause hard disks to malfunction. In addition to this, HDDs also consume more power. The slow data speeds also mean that hard disks are terrible as boot drives in modern systems. 

SDD: Pros and cons

SSDs offer one major advantage over HDDs — speed. SSDs offer a lot higher read and write speeds than HDDs, which means that they’re great for storing data that you want to access regularly and quickly. They’re also less prone to failure. SSD failure rates are related to P/E cycles, i.e. programmed and erased cycles. This means you can use your SSD for a specific number of data cycles before it reaches a point where it is highly likely to fail. However, manufacturers often specify the endurance specifications, so you can prepare for failure in advance.

Despite getting more and more affordable, SSDs still remain the costlier storage solution. The upper limit of SSD capacities, for now, is also lower than that of HDDs, and higher capacity models can get notoriously expensive.

SSD vs HDD: Which one should you buy?

Hard disk platter and head

It all comes down to your use case. An all-SSD setup with multiple high-capacity SSDs doesn’t make sense unless you’re planning on using your machine for intensive time-sensitive tasks. The best option for most folks is to buy an SSD as your boot drive, for your operating system and a few other essential programs.

For the rest of your data storage like all your movies, pictures, music, and other media, and maybe even some space-hogging game installations, an HDD makes more sense. This is the implementation you can see in most of the best laptops you can buy these days. If you don’t have much of a need for mass data storage, you can just get an SSD with a capacity that matches your needs. Alternatively, if you’re on a very strict budget and don’t mind the slower speeds, having only an HDD as your storage device should be fine.