What’s the Difference Between a SSD and a HDD?

Tech Talker compares the two main types of hard drives on the market so you can find the one that’s right for you.

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #18

In an earlier Tech Talker episode I talked about how to extend the life of your hard drive and went over all the signs of a failing drive. Today, I’ll be talking about the main differences between solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs).>

What’s a Hard Disk Drive?

A traditional hard disk drive (HDD) has spinning plates that store your information. These drives have come a long way since they were first built in the early 1960’s and they double in capacity about every 18 months. Recently though, the cost for HDDs has gone up significantly due to (believe it or not) flooding in Thailand. Why would a natural disaster in Asia affect the cost of your hard disk drive? Because Thailand is where most of the world’s HDDs come from. So when production in Thailand is compromised, prices go up. Thankfully, the cost of these drives should drop back down to normal within the next year or so.

On the other hand, solid state drives (SSDs) are newer to the mainstream tech world. There has been a lot of buzz about these new drives and all the benefits they have to offer.

If you go to a tech store, you might notice that for $100 you can pick up a traditional hard disk drive with a capacity of 1,000 gigabytes. But if you were to buy a solid state drive, that same $100 would only get you about 60 gigabytes. You’re probably thinking, “Well, I know what my decision would be!”

But not so fast…there’s much more than meets the eye here.

What’s a Solid State Drive?

So let’s take a look at why you might want a solid state drive, in spite of its higher cost. For one thing, SSDs have no moving parts, which, if you recall my episode on hard drive failure, means that these drives are virtually impervious to mechanical or physical breakage. That said, it probably won’t be good for you hard drive if you threw it out the window. But SSDs can handle a whole lot more general wear and tear. In fact, short of a trip down the stairs, there’s not a whole lot an SSD can’t take.

Next, let’s look at power consumption. This may not be that big of a deal if you’re looking to upgrade your desktop’s hard drive, but for someone who constantly uses their laptop on the go like yours truly, this can add a half an hour or so to your battery life. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a whole lot, but if you’re running late to a crucial meeting and need the last 5 minutes of juice from your laptop in order to complete that presentation, it can be the difference between career success and failure. Because nothing is moving internally in SSDs, less energy has to be used towards keeping the drive cool and the battery life is longer.

Solid state drives are also incredibly fast. In fact, if you were to make only one upgrade to your computer to make it faster, I would say switch your primary hard drive to a solid state one. I did this a few months ago, and it felt as if I had a brand new computer. This speed difference will apply to almost everything in your computer, from booting up, to multitasking reports or homework assignments, to playing games. If you’ve noticed your computer getting a bit sluggish, you’ll feel the difference right away by switching to a SSD.

Most of the time the hard drive is the slowest part of a computer. What this means is that your computer can only work as fast as your hard drive while running most tasks, and if you have a slower hard disk drive, you may not be unlocking the full potential of your computer.

SSDs are sounding pretty good now, right? But to be fair, they do have a few follies. As I mentioned before, you don’t get a ton of hard drive space for your money, but here’s a tip of how to make the most of your space:

Put your operating system on the fast SSD and keep all of the files that you rarely use on the slower hard disk drive.

Another known issue with SSDs is their limit on how many times information can be written onto them. What this means is that each part of the drive could only have the information recorded onto it a limited number of times. This used to be a pretty big limitation in the past, but now thanks to some better technology and programming, most solid state drives will last just as long, if not longer, than traditional hard drives.

So how do you know if a solid state drive is right for you? Just answer these 3 questions:

  1. You’d rather upgrade a portion of your computer, rather than replacing the entire computer altogether.

  2. You have a laptop that gets moved frequently, and could use better battery life.

  3. You don’t need a lot storage space for your files, or you have a place to move your larger files.

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, it’s time to invest in a SSD.

Do you have nagging tech questions? Post them to the Tech Talker Facebook wall and I will be happy to answer them. I’m going to be dedicating an entire episode to listener questions soon, so make sure to let me know what you want me to tackle in the future.

Well that’s all for today!

Have a question about anything in this episode? Or a suggestion for a future podcast? Send me an email at techtalker@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Tech Talker Facebook wall.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

HHD and SSD images courtesy of Shutterstock

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.