What to choose, HDD OR SSD?

The computers corner

By Charles Miller

As I write this the last week in November I have been taking advantage of some “Black Friday” sales in Texas, and this includes making visits to BestBuy, Fry’s, MicroCenter, and a few other retailers where new laptop computers are sold. For me, however; this does not involve getting up at 4am to go stand in line.

Anyone who goes shopping as I have done is going to learn that now there is yet another new and important option to consider when making the purchase of a new laptop computer. Today a number of manufacturers are offering a choice of either a Solid State Drive (SSD) or Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as the storage component. So which of the two is the better choice, an SSD or HDD? Because each buyer may have different needs, there is no straightforward answer to this question. You need to evaluate and base your decision on your needs, your preferences, and your budget. Perhaps the information here will help you make an informed choice.

HDDs have been the computer industry standard for a generation. The insides look like a miniature phonograph with disks that spin around and an arm that moves back and forth across the surface to read the data. SSDs are solid-state memory chips with no moving parts whatsoever. Because HDDs are mechanical, they are subject to mechanical problems. The SSD has no moving parts so some users might assume it would be better and longer lasting; however, this is not the case. SSDs operate by forcing electrons through a microscopic membrane in the chip and this eventually fatigues the medium until the SSD suddenly dies, usually without warning.

The price of SSDs was once so high that few buyers even considered buying one. The good news is that prices of SSDs have fallen dramatically; the bad news (or maybe good news) is that the price of conventional HDDs has plummeted too, and as a result the price per gigabyte advantage is still strongly with HDDs. As of this writing, the price for SSD storage is somewhere around a US dollar per gigabyte while HDDs is around a dime. This price changes frequently.

A solid state drive may cost ten times the price of the equivalent spinning drive, or (much more likely) the SSD drive you buy will be much smaller than the alternative HDD. In larger desktop computers it is becoming more commonplace to have two hard disks, one of each. The SSD is used to store frequently-accessed files for faster access while the spinning drive is used for storing files that do not need to be accessed frequently or as quickly. Few laptop computers can accommodate two drives though, so for the laptop buyer like me a decision has to be made to go with one or the other.

If faster performance and fast boot-up time is your primary consideration and money is secondary, then SSD is the way to go. On the other hand, if you have a huge collection of music or digital images and need many gigabytes of storage space where you can keep them, then a conventional HDD might be a better choice. I ended up deciding that I could store the bulk of my voluminous data elsewhere and that it was not essential to have all that data sitting on my new laptop. This freed me up to take advantage of a much smaller but super-fast SSD drive that will improve my overall user experience.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.


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