Choosing which drive to use in a computer involves a trade-off between speed, capacity, and cost. Ignoring the rise and fall of the floppy disk, for a long time, hard disks were the most common storage devices.
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They are reliable, have large capacities, and are relatively inexpensive. Of course, they weren't always cheap. This disk was a lot slower than current hard disks, spinning at only 2, RPM. Current hard drives generally spin at 5, or 7, RPM, though there are some that are faster. Performance is not just about speed, there are other features that can make a drive read or write data faster. Disk manufacturers have released drives that are 10 and 12 TB, and we should even see a 16 TB hard drive later this year.
In terms of cost for storage, hard drives are the cheapest. They are also heavier and they make noise. This latter point may not bother most people, but I prefer not to hear anything spinning in my Macs. Solid state drives, or SSDs, use flash memory to store data. When they're built into a computer, in appearance they're just a few chips on a circuit board. You can also buy them in 2. SSDs are compact, quiet and very fast, especially when you start up a computer or wake the computer hard disks may go to sleep when not used for a certain time, and take a few seconds to spin up.
SSDs also use less power, run cooler, are lighter, and have no moving parts, which makes them ideal for laptops.
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If you drop a laptop when its hard drive is spinning, the drive can be damaged, and you can lose data. SSDs tend to be more reliable overall, and if they fail, you can still read data unless the actual memory chips are damaged , whereas you may not be able to do this with a hard disk.
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However, SSDs are much more expensive when you look at the cost to storage ratio. There is another kind of drive that combines the two technologies: The drive copies the most frequently used files to the flash storage, so they can be accessed more quickly. This generally includes the operating system, apps you use often, and files you access regularly.
The first time you boot and launch apps, files are read from the hard disk, and then moved to the SSD part of the drive; subsequently, accessing those files is much faster. These drives offer a compromise between speed and storage, still being a bit slower than SSDs, but at a much nicer price point: The speed and reliability of SSDs make them the ideal solution for today's computers. And Apple's laptops are only offered with SSDs. SSDs have no such limitation, so they can continue to shrink as time goes on.
SSDs are available in 2. Even the quietest hard drive will emit a bit of noise when it is in use.
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The drive platters spin and the read arm ticks back and forth. Faster hard drives will tend to make more noise than those that are slower. SSDs make no noise at all; they're non-mechanical. An SSD doesn't have to expend electricity spinning up a platter from a standstill. Consequently, none of the energy consumed by the SSD is wasted as friction or noise, rendering them more efficient.
On a desktop or in a server, that will lead to a lower energy bill. On a laptop or tablet, you'll be able to eke out more minutes or hours of battery life.
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If you're really worried, several tools can let you know if you're approaching the drive's rated end of life. Eventually, hard drives will wear out from constant use, as well, since they use physical recording methods. Longevity is a wash when it's separated from travel and ruggedness concerns. Hard drives win on price and capacity. SSDs work best if speed, ruggedness, form factor, noise, or fragmentation technically, a subset of speed are important factors to you.
If it weren't for the price and capacity issues, SSDs would be the hands-down winner. Video collectors need space, and you can only get to 4TB of space cheaply with hard drives. Plenty of cheap space. Video and photo editors wear out storage by overuse. These folks are a toss-up. Users who prefer to download their media files locally will still need a hard drive with more capacity.
But if you mostly stream your music and videos online, buying a smaller SSD for the same money will give you a better experience. People who shove their laptops into their bags indiscriminately will want the extra security of an SSD. That laptop may not be fully asleep when you violently shut it to catch your next flight.
This also includes folks who work in the field, like utility workers and university researchers. If you need things done now, spend the extra bucks on SSD for quick boot-ups and app launches. Supplement with a storage SSD or hard drive if you need extra space see below. Yes, we know we said they need hard drives, but the speed of an SSD may make the difference between completing two proposals for your client and completing five.
These users are prime candidates for dual-drive systems more on that below. If you're recording music, you don't want the scratchy sound from a hard drive intruding. Go for quieter SSDs. Back in the mid s, some hard drive manufacturers, like Samsung and Seagate, theorized that if you add a few gigabytes of flash chips to a spinning hard drive, you could fashion a so-called "hybrid" drive. This would combine a hard drive's large storage capacity with the performance of an SSD, at a price only slightly higher than that of a typical hard drive. The flash memory acts as a buffer for frequently used files, so your system has the potential for booting and launching your most important apps faster, even though you can't directly install anything in that space yourself.
In practice, hybrid drives work, but they are still more expensive and more complex than regular hard drives. They work best for people like road warriors who need both lots of storage and fast boot times. Since they're an in-between product, hybrid drives don't necessarily replace dedicated hard drives or SSDs.
A better solution for many folks will be a dual-drive system. This works well in theory; in practice, manufacturers can go too small on the SSD. Windows itself takes up a lot of space on the primary drive, and some apps can't be installed on other drives. Also, some capacities can be too small. Space concerns are the same as with any multiple-drive system: You need physical space inside the PC chassis to hold two or more drives, which means that these kind of arrangements are practical only in PC desktops and some big-chassis, high-end usually gaming-oriented laptops.
They use the SSD invisibly to act as a cache to help the system more speedily boot and launch programs. As on a hybrid drive, the SSD is not directly accessible by the end user. On the other hand, your PC will need space for two drives, a requirement that may exclude some laptops and small-form-factor desktops. Fusion Drive is only available on Mac desktops, for instance. You'll also need the SSD and your system's motherboard to support the caching technology for this scenario to work. All in all, however, it's an interesting workaround.
It's unclear whether SSDs will totally replace traditional spinning hard drives, especially with shared cloud storage waiting in the wings. The price of SSDs is coming down, but they're still too expensive to totally replace the terabytes of data that some users have in their PCs and Macs for mass storage that doesn't need to be fast, just simply there. Cloud storage isn't free, either: You'll continue to pay as long as you want personal storage on the Internet.
Local storage won't go away until we have reliable wireless Internet everywhere, including in planes and out in the wilderness. Of course, by that time, there may be something better. Looking for some extra storage?
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Check out our guide to the best external hard drives. Or if you want to protect or store your files online, check out our roundups of the best cloud storage and file-syncing services and the best online backup services. Buying a Solid-State Drive: He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups.