HDD vs SSD: Choosing a Drive for your New PC

Hard disk drives and solid-state drives vary in size, capacity and how they store data. But when buying a new computer or laptop, should you opt for an HDD or an SSD? The short answer is – it depends.

Hard disk drives (HDDs) have been around for decades, and are still widely used despite the advancement of solid-state technology. This storage medium relies of spinning magnetic disks – or platters – to read and write data. A hard drive consists of one or multiple platters, each with an actuator arm with a read/write head on the end. The platters are organised into circles, also known as tracks, and tracks are divided into sectors. Each track and subsequent sector number gives a unique address, used by the drive to locate and organise data. Hard disk drives also feature an I/O controller and firmware that tells the hard drive how to operate, and communicates with the other components. Whenever your ask your machine to read or write data, the I/O controller informs the actuator arm exactly where the data is located, in terms of the unique address, and the read/write head will then gather or write your data.

As you might have gathered by now, hard disk drives contain a multitude of components, and many of them - like the actuator arm and platters – are moving while the HDD is in operation. This can cause a multitude of problems, especially if your HDD is knocked or bumped while the platters are spinning. For this reason, although modern hard drives used in laptops contain active hard drive protection to prevent physical faults like head crashes, hard drives are best utilised in static desktop PCs. There’s also the added energy that hard disk drives use, creating increased running costs, noise and heat. For PC users, this isn’t likely to be an issue, but for businesses, these costs can add up. HDDs are currently being manufactured with capacities in excess of 10TB, which no SSD can match yet. Hard disk drives are also comparatively cheap in terms of cost per gigabyte of data, especially when compared to solid-state drives. If you’re trying to save some money, a good old-fashioned HDD might be the storage medium to opt for.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have been around for years now, and can no longer be described as a “new” technology. Many computer manufacturers only use SSDs in their machines now – Apple’s MacBook range is one example. SSD technology is still rapidly evolving, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. SSDs utilise electric charges, and data is stored in non-volatile NAND flash chips, meaning the data is retained even without a power supply. Flash-based storage is commonly used in USB sticks, SD cards, and mobile phones, but is now commonly used as the main storage media in computers and laptops. Solid-state drives are new enough to still come with a pretty big price tag, although costs are coming down. They’re also not available with storage capacities anywhere near that of HDDs, so if you need all of your data on hand, then it might be better to opt for an HDD. But in today’s age of high-speed broadband, it’s possible to store most if not all of your files in the cloud, meaning you don’t need a high capacity drive. SSDs also have the advantage of being fast, and they contain no moving parts, so aren’t susceptible to the same physical faults as HDDs; although they aren’t invincible.

Ultimately, the drive you should choose for your new PC depends on what it’s being used for. What kind of activities are you going to be undertaking? Are they read/write heavy? Do you need all of your data on-hand, or will you always be in range of a wifi connection so you can access the cloud? We’d recommend opting for an SSD for personal computing, but for more specialist tasks like gaming, an HDD might be more suitable. If you’re on a budget, perhaps you should consider an HDD too.  

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