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Are you running out of storage space? Has your hard disk slowed to a crawl? Or are you simply looking for optimal computer performance? It may be time for a hardware upgrade. But should you get a cheaper hard disk drive or a faster SSD? We’ll explain the differences between HDDs and SSDs in terms of speed, capacity, cost, and lifespan, then show you how to keep yours clean and fast with specialized optimization software.
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The main difference between a solid state drive (SSD) and a hard disk drive (HDD) is how data is stored and accessed. HDDs use mechanical spinning disks and a moving read/write head to access data, while SSDs use memory chips. If price isn’t an issue, SSDs are a better option — especially since modern SSDs are just about as reliable as HDDs.
Until the late 2000s, when you bought a new hard disk drive or personal computer, your hard disk storage choices were limited to size and speed — perhaps 5,400 or 7,200 rotations per minute. Today, when you buy a new PC, you have two very different options: you can get one with an SSD or one with an HDD.
The laptop on the left above comes with a traditional hard disk drive, while the one on the right has a more modern solid state drive. While SSDs and HDDs are both storage devices, the way they work is quite different.
HDDs: In an HDD, an enclosure contains a series of platters covered by a ferromagnetic coating. The direction of the magnetization represents the individual bits. Data is written and read by a fast-moving head, similar to the way vinyl record albums work.
Since all of these pieces are “mechanical,” the hard disk is the slowest and most fragile component of any computer.
SSDs: SSDs are newer types of disks that store information on flash memory, which consists of individual memory cells storing bits that are instantly accessible by the controller. Learn all about SSDs here.
SSDs are often used in laptops because they're non-mechanical. Solid state drives require less power, which translates into better battery life. While lower-priced laptops still come with traditional, cheaper hard drives, most mid-range to high-end machines come with an SSD.
While hard disks have moving parts, solid state drives are shock-resistant. If you drop your laptop while the read/write head of a hard drive is in motion — which it usually is — it could result in data failure. This doesn’t happen with SSDs.
But it isn’t always an either/or choice. “Hybrid” computers have both drive types — the operating system (OS), apps, and the most-used files are installed on an SSD, while other data sits on an HDD, which is typically larger and less expensive. Using your SSD to run your OS and apps is a great way to increase SSD performance.
The speed difference between solid state drives vs hard disk drives is significant. SSDs are extremely fast in all areas, but the speed difference is more pronounced when performing certain tasks, such as:
Sequential read/write operations: The speed difference of an SSD vs hard drive is most apparent when copying and moving huge files. HDDs can copy 30 to 150 MB per second (MB/s), while standard SSDs perform the same action at speeds of 500 MB/s. Newer NVME SSDs can even show speeds of up to an astounding 3,000 to 3,500 MB/s.
With an SSD, you can copy a 20 GB movie in less than 10 seconds, while a hard disk would take at least two minutes. Upgrading your Mac to an SSD or installing an SSD in your PC will give it a significant speed boost.
Small 4K read/write operations: Most of the time, when you run your OS, open basic programs, or browse the web, you’re actually opening and manipulating thousands of smaller files, which are stored in small blocks of data (usually sized at 4K).
The faster your disk can read and write these 4K blocks, the faster and snappier your system operates. With HDDs, the speed ranges from 0.1 to 1.7 MB/s. SSDs and NVME SSDs operate at much faster speeds of 50 to 250 MB/s.
To demonstrate the speed difference between an HDD vs SSD, compare the benchmarks below (we used CrystalDiskMark). The numbers on the left are from a seven-year-old HP 630 laptop. On the right, we’re using a newer 2017 MacBook Pro running Windows 10 with an NVME SSD.
Speed differences between an older HP laptop with an HDD (left) and a newer MacBook Pro with an SSD (right).
On our Mac with an SSD, sequential reads are nearly 56 times faster and small 4K read operations are about 226 times faster. Windows takes just 10 seconds to boot, and there is no visible delay when launching Chrome — it’s just there. Upgrade to an SSD if you want to speed up your Mac or make your PC faster.
In our tests, the HP computer with an HDD was painfully slow. Booting Windows took a full four minutes, and Chrome launched in 15 seconds — longer than it took our SSD computer to start up. Nearly every click in Windows is accompanied by a massive delay.
Whether you’re using an SSD or HDD, you’ll want to make sure it stays clean, so that your machine can operate at its best. Avast Cleanup will tune up your drive, update your apps, and fix other annoying problems, freeing up your computer to run as fast as it should.
While it’s true that SSD cells have a limited lifespan, this isn’t really an issue today. The myths surrounding SSD lifespans are based on assumptions from the 1990s and early 2000s.
In theory, if more data is written to a cell, it wears out faster. A current SSD cell can handle approximately 3,000 write cycles, which doesn’t sound like much at first. But thanks to the principle of wear leveling, the SSD spreads write operations evenly across all cells to minimize cell death and prolong the lifespan of the drive.
Additionally, modern SSDs contain spare cells that replace dead cells. This is called bad block management, and it’s why the larger the SSD, the longer its lifespan. If you were to write data to an SSD 24/7, it would still take decades for the drive to break down. But if you’re worried, you can always run a hard drive test to monitor its health.
Since SSDs don’t contain moving parts, they’re less prone to damage if you drop or bang your computer. This also makes SSDs more reliable in extreme environments and in high or low temperatures. You can typically expect a modern SSD to last at least as long as an HDD.
If your drive fails, you can usually recover the data on it. This is true with both HDDs and SSDs, though with a few key differences. Since SSDs are newer, many data recovery services charge more to work with them. But since they’re faster, you might be able to recover your data faster than with an HDD.
SSDs use the TRIM command to destroy data when files are deleted. This is part of how SSDs equalize wear across all cells, but it also makes it harder to recover deleted files. Data recovery for SSDs is best handled by professionals in a lab with specialized equipment and software.
Whichever type of drive you use, the best way to protect your data is with regular backups to external storage devices or cloud storage. You won’t need to worry about SSD data recovery when you already have a fresh copy.
If you are concerned about how much information you can store on each type of drive, don’t worry. There are no differences in storage capacity. You can get HDDs and SSDs in similar sizes, from as small as 128 GB up to 20 TB or more. But larger SSDs are still more expensive — we’ll discuss price in the following section.
In the meantime, if you need to radically free up space, you can easily format any hard drive, internal or external — no matter if it’s an HDD or SSD. And if you need to completely wipe your hard drive, there are ways to do that, too.
The market for flash storage is volatile and varies based on supply and demand. While SSDs are much cheaper than they used to be, there is still a significant price difference. A 1 TB internal HDD costs roughly $60, whereas a 1 TB internal SSD averages around $150.
A good source for direct price comparison of popular disk sizes can be found at PCPartPicker.com.
The average price of a 1 TB SSD.
The average price of a 1 TB HDD.
Generally, you’ll experience much crisper gaming with an SSD. Given the huge amounts of data a game needs to shuffle back and forth, an SSD helps games load and run faster. You’ll also experience less stutter when gaming, as the rest of your PC doesn’t need to wait for game data to load — which offers quite an advantage, especially in the eSports arena.
Here’s a simple example: Loading the world of GTA V takes about 25 seconds on my Samsung 970 Evo Plus with an SSD, compared to more than two minutes when using an old mechanical hard disk. It’s a literal game-changer, and it’s why you should always use an SSD if you’re building your own gaming PC.
You’re probably familiar with the sound of an HDD spinning up as it gets to work — or perhaps the clicking sound that indicates an impending hard drive failure. SSDs, by contrast, lack any moving parts, and so they’re completely silent.
The only sound you might hear is the whirring of your computer’s fans while performing intensive tasks — high CPU temps can lead to performance issues, and your computer’s fans will spin up if you have many tasks running simultaneously and things start to heat up.
With no mechanical components, SSDs draw less power than their spinning counterparts. This is one reason why most laptops come with SSDs — better battery life. Hard disk drives require more power because they’re constantly in motion.
If you’re still not sure whether an SSD or HDD is right for you, let’s review how SSDs and HDDs stack up against each other. SSDs are faster, more durable, more compact, quieter, and consume less energy. HDDs are more affordable and may offer easier data recovery in the event of damage.
As long as price isn’t the determining factor, SSDs come out on top — especially since modern SSDs are just about as reliable as HDDs. Today, HDDs are preferable only if you’re storing large amounts of data without needing to access it very often. Otherwise, and if you can afford the higher price, an SSD offers better performance and a faster computing experience.
SSDs and HDDs can both fill up with useless files and other junk if you’re not careful, resulting in less storage capacity and slower drive performance. Avast Cleanup automatically detects everything you don’t want or need — unused apps, temporary files, bloatware, and other useless data — so you can clear it out with a single click.
Regardless of whether you have an SSD or an HDD, you’ll enjoy greater storage space and smoother performance with Avast Cleanup.