Every year, the technological devices we use—and increasingly depend on—seem to get smaller and more powerful. And yet somehow these machines manage to hold large quantities of files, media, and applications. That’s possible because of the data storage technology available to manufacturers and consumers today. And in the world of storage technology, there are two main options: SSD and HDD.

Your average consumer rarely has to worry about the difference between the two, but for the tech savvy, understanding the difference in how they work and the relative benefits of each can be valuable. This article will compare SSD vs HDD to help you decide which option is the right one for you.

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What is SSD (Solid-State Drive)?

The solid-state drive is a relatively recent data storage technology that uses memory chips to store information. SSDs use the same technology that flash drives do, but on a larger scale.

Specifically, they’re made up of NAND (negative-and) memory chips that house a number of memory cells. There are three types of memory cells:

  • Single-level cells (SLC)
  • Multi-level cells (MLC)
  • Triple-level cells (TLC)

SLCs can only hold two bits of data (a 1 or 0), which means a higher level of precision, but higher cost. MLCs hold two bits of data per cell, and TLCs three—each increase in bits leads to a tradeoff in precision and speed, but means greater affordability.

With technological advances over time, SSDs have been able to hold more NAND chips with more memory cells, increasing power and storage capacity, while reducing cost.

Many new computer models now come with SSD hardware and external hard drives that use SSD drive technology have become more common and accessible.

SSD Pros: 6 Reasons to Consider SSD Over HDD

SSDs are growing in popularity for good reason. The technology has a number of important benefits that make them a good choice for most tech manufacturers and users alike. Here are six of the main reasons to consider SSD over HDD.

1. They’re fast.

Because a SSD drive has fewer moving parts in the way they function, it works more efficiently. On the user end, that means your devices work much faster. If you’re tired of watching the spinning ball of death (or throbber, if you prefer the more technical term) while you wait for files to open or pages to load, then you need a data storage option that works faster. This is a significant category where SSDs win, which is one of the biggest reasons many prefer them.

The speed at which your computer or other devices you rely on work makes a discernible difference in your day to day life. SSDs increase convenience and efficiency, and thus make your life easier.

2. They’re quiet.

Another benefit of SSDs using technology that doesn’t involve a lot of moving parts is that it means they can run without making as much noise. SSDs are virtually silent. If you prefer to do your work (and play) without the extra white noise that HDDs make when they get into gear, then SSDs are your best choice.

3. They’re reliable.

Fewer parts also means fewer opportunities for pieces to break or wear out. SSDs can generally be counted on to last years, or even decades, without needing any repairs. And like most technologies, the longer companies work on them, the more reliable they become. Every year only increases the lifespan of new SSDs, which was already long to begin with.

4. They don’t use much energy.

The efficiency in how SSDs work also means that they don’t use as much energy as HDDs. That means your computer’s battery power will last longer, and your electric bills could be lower. For anyone conscious about their energy usage and looking for ways to cut down, this is one small choice that can make a difference.

5. They’re light and portable.

This is especially convenient when it comes to laptops or other devices you need to move from one place to another frequently. The technology SSDs use is relatively small and lightweight, which means products that use an SSD will be more convenient to carry around.

6. They’re versatile.

Because SSDs can be made with different types of memory cells, numbers of chips, and design approaches, you have a lot of options when it comes to their shapes and sizes. While replacing the drive in your computer requires finding something that’s the right fit, for other purposes like choosing an external drive, you have more choices.

SSD Cons

While the pros are compelling, there are a few potential downsides to consider when it comes to SSDs.

1. They’re expensive.

The biggest drawback of SSD in relation to HDD is that it’s more expensive. While the technology is getting more affordable every year, SSD is still quite a bit more expensive than HDD drives. And the types of SSDs that deliver better performance or more storage space, such as those with SLC or multiple NAND chips cost more.

2. They often have a smaller capacity.

Related to cost is the issue of storage capacity. The more files and data you have to store, the more you’ll have to spend on an SSD big enough to fit them all. For creators with especially high data storage capacity needs, SSD is often prohibitively expensive, where HDD drives with a comparable storage size cost quite a bit less.

3. In some cases, you’ll face compatibility issues.

If you’re looking to replace the drive you have in your current computer and the device now has an HDD, there’s a chance that an SSD won’t be compatible. Many computers that now come with HDDs are designed to be compatible with both types of storage drives, so you have the choice to trade up down the line.

But older devices, or more affordable ones, may only be HDD-compatible, so you have to make sure switching to SDD is even an option before you consider it.

What is HDD (Hard Disk Drive)?

A hard disk drive, sometimes just called a hard drive, is a data storage device that stores information on rotating magnetic disks. The technology includes an arm with a head that floats above the disks until called on to write data on the disks in tiny tracks, much like a miniature record player, then “read” or retrieve the data as needed.

It’s an older form of computer storage, developed in the early days of computers and refined in the decades since. For a long time it was the dominant computer data storage option, but as SSD technology has gotten more advanced and, crucially, more affordable, it has begun to lose ground in popularity.  Nonetheless, it’s still easy to find and a better option in some use cases.

HDD Pros: 3 Reasons People Prefer Them Over SSDs

Hard disk drives have a different set of benefits they offer in comparison to SSDs. Here are the main reasons some people prefer them.

1. They’re more affordable.

HDDs cost quite a bit less than SDDs, and always have. While over time as SDD technology advances, the difference in cost narrows, it’s still considerable enough that you can expect to spend a lot less if you opt for an HDD.

This is true across use cases—computers, external hard drives, and web hosting servers that use HDDs will consistently be cheaper than those of a comparable size that use SDDs. If price is your biggest deciding factor, you can check out our cheap dedicated server hosting plans here.

2. They’re better for high-capacity storage.

For anyone that has a lot of files, media, and applications that require a significant amount of space, HDDs are an affordable option for managing larger amounts of storage. HDDs can go up to two terabytes in laptops and ten terabytes in desktops.

3. They’re a proven technology.

While both technologies have been around for some time now, HDDs are the legacy tech of the two. The longer a technology has existed, the more time companies have had to work out any kinks and improve upon it, and HDDs have existed for decades.

Part of the reason you get to pay less for an HDD is because of that extra time experts have had to advance the tech and make it work better for less.

HDD Cons

There’s a tradeoff to any choice you make, and HDDs of course have several areas in which they’re the weaker choice. Here are the main reasons not to go with an HDD.

1. They’re slower than SSDs.

As previously mentioned, the technology behind HDDs is simply less efficient. For users that means everything you do with them will be slower. With your computer, you’d face a longer time waiting for the device to boot up and slower load times when opening files and media. With external drives, it means backups and transfers take longer.

And with web hosting, it can potentially mean slower load times for your website. All those times you spend waiting can really add up and make your days more inefficient.

2. They’re loud.

The technology behind HDDs involves spinning disks and that spinning makes noise. Whenever the drive goes into high gear saving or accessing data, it gets louder. If you have a device that uses HDD, then you’re probably all too familiar with the spinning noise. It can be distracting as you work, and cause problems with family members or roommates you share a space with.

If you care about keeping some peace and quiet in your home or workspace, an HDD can work against you.

3. They’re vulnerable to damage.

Because the technology involves a number of different moving parts, there are more opportunities for parts to wear out or break. HDDs therefore tend to have a shorter lifespan than SDDs, and are more prone to needing repairs.

While they cost less upfront, HDDs can cost you extra down the line when you have to replace them sooner, hire a professional to fix them, or deal with lost productivity because they’re not working properly.

3 Main Uses for Different Storage Solutions

As we’ve touched on a bit in the comparison, there are three main use cases where you’ll have a choice to make between SSD vs HDD.

1. Computers

All computers need a hard drive to store the operating system, applications, and various files users need to store on the device. When you’re looking for a new computer, you can find both models that use SSD and HDD.

Typically, SSD computers are higher end and will cost you more upfront, and most Apple computers now come only in SSD versions. But for those needing to pinch pennies, or who want more storage for the money they spend, you can find HDD models as well.

2. External Hard Drives

External hard drives come in handy both for making backups, and storing any files you don’t want taking up space on your computer. If you own a lot of games, movies, or other files that take up a significant amount of space, storing them externally can open up space on the computer itself so you don’t run out as fast.

You can find plenty of choices for external hard drives, both SSD and HDD. HDD options are typically cheaper and sometimes much larger. SSD ones are smaller, lighter, and more costly for the amount of storage you get.

3. Web Hosting Servers

A sometimes overlooked area where you have a choice between HDD and SSD is when it comes to choosing your web hosting, particularly if you invest in dedicated server hosting. Some web hosting providers will allow you to choose between an SSD or HDD plan.

As you’d expect by this point in the piece, and SSD plan will typically cost more but deliver more speed (twice as much, in the case of HostGator’s plan). But for websites with less storage or bandwidth needs, an HDD plan can offer savings.

Other Storage Options

While SSD and HDD are your main options in many contexts, we now also have a couple of alternatives in some use cases.

Hybrid Drives

While not as common as SSDs or HDDs, in the past few years an alternative that combines the best of both worlds has come onto the scene. You can find computers and external drives that use both types of technology in order to provide the faster speed of an SSD, with the affordable higher capacity of an HDD.

A hybrid drive will store the files you access most on the SSD part of the device, so you can load them quickly; while the files that mostly stay in storage without frequent access can be stored on the HDD part of the device.  

Cloud Storage

While computers require a physical drive to function, for many other data storage needs you can now turn to cloud options. Cloud storage is a popular choice for backups and any files or programs you have that won’t fit on your computer. And web hosting companies now frequently offer cloud hosting plans as well that offer significant storage options and faster speeds.

Make the Right Data Storage Choice For You

All of your data storage options have unique benefits and drawbacks. Deciding between SSD vs HDD will require figuring out your particular situation and priorities. Do you have a tight budget and need a large amount of storage space? Or is convenience and speed more important than cost? Now you’ll know how to make an informed choice that best suits your needs.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.