Solid-state drives are becoming a common sight in laptop and desktop computers as their prices begin that long familiar downward trend that typically follows the widespread adoption of a technology. While single-state drives are nothing new, their capacity is reaching a point where users are beginning to accept the limited storage in favor of a faster computing experience. For many users, it’s hard to overlook that the standard hard disk drive (HDD) offers greater storage capacity at a lower price point. How how do these two drives really compare when used in desktop computers?
Traditional hard disk drives have the clear edge when it comes to capacity. Limited to a storage capacity of 512 GB on models presently available on the consumer market, solid-state drives are unable to keep up with the constant increase in capacity found on HDDs. With the ability to store up to 3 TB of information on a single drive, hard disk drives are a great way to store your entire collection of data on a single drive that costs as much or less than an SSD with significantly less capacity. It could be argued that system files shouldn’t be stored on the same disk as the kind of data a larger drive would require, and it is for this reason that so many users are justifying a drop in capacity. External spindle drives are beginning to feature excellent value-adds in terms of extra features and functionality that cater to the home user and professional with a lot of data to store.
There is no denying that solid-state drives are fast. Their random access time is less than 0.1 seconds compared to their hard disk counterparts, which take sometimes several seconds to access data. This is due in part to the need for a hard disk to locate and move the reader head to the correct location where the information is stored. Spin-up time is practically non-existent on a solid-state drive thanks to there being no moving parts to require such an action.
Even today, disk fragmentation remains an issue for HDDs and can have a dramatic impact on performance. A solid-state drive doesn’t benefit from defragmentation at all. Because the information is stored electronically rather than physically, the seek times for fragmented data is the same as it would be for data that isn’t.
Solid-state drives are also capable of parallel read/write operations on some models that include multiple control chips. A hard disk drive has multiple read/write heads (one per platter), but their movement is synchronous, which makes multiple simultaneous operations impossible. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you can’t copy multiple files at once, only that the drive is forced to jump between these operations. This is one reason transfer rates drop considerably when multiple tasks are assigned to the drive at the same time.
Where a hard disk drive has an advantage is through sustained data transfer over a longer period of time. Some HDDs actually surpass SSDs in speed when transferring large files. The real advantage of SSDs is in seek and read times, which adds speed in most instances where the vast majority of operations consist of small, quick file seeks and reads.
Solid-state drives are arguably much more durable. Hard disk drives, and the data they carry, can be damaged by a number of factors including magnetic fields, vibrations, and sudden movements or impacts. A solid-state drive can take a considerable amount of jostling and knocks without risk of failure or loss of data. A hard disk drive depends on a relatively still environment to keep the delicate read/write heads aligned properly and functioning. A sudden knock while writing data can result in critical drive failure, and unrecoverable data loss.
Hard disk drives are susceptible to breakdown due to the moving parts involved in operation. As a drive ages, the chances of failure increase. Solid-state drives do not have moving parts that wear and break down over time.
Where hard disk drives presently have the advantage is in their ability to write new information an unlimited number of times. Typically, solid-state drives have a limited amount of writes that can be performed on particular sectors. This isn’t a problem for DRAM-based SSDs, however.
Hard disk drives are much cheaper than solid-state drives. The average price for a GB of space on a hard disk drive is less than $0.05 for 3.5-inch drives and $0.10 for 2.5-inch models. A solid-state drive runs roughly $1.20-2.00 per GB of storage capacity. This cost is a major deterrent to many users that feel traditional hard drives work well enough that the increase in price isn’t justified.
The value of one drive over another depends greatly on the needs of the user. If speed is your primary concern, or you work in an environment where the drive may be subject to frequent jostling, a solid-state drive may be the best option for you. If you need a way to store large amounts of data and don’t have a lot of money to spend to do so, you may find the value present in hard disk drives too good to pass up.
So, what do you think: SSD vs HDD?