SSD vs HDD: Which should you buy?

So you’re on the lookout for a new laptop or PC, but you’re not sure which one best fits your requirements. With so many different specs on the market - from a machine’s processor, graphics and RAM as well as its storage to choose from - choosing what to buy can be tricky. Let’s start by explaining the differences between each of these types of storage and a little about their pros and cons.

What is a Hard Disk Drive (or HDD)?
The age-old HDD has been around for what seems like eternity (that’s about 50 years in computing terms). HDDs use the traditional method of storing data on one or more fixed, spinning disks (or ‘platters’) which are coated with a magnetic material. A moving arm reads and writes data to the drive’s platters in blocks that are ordered sequentially from one side to the other.

HDDs ruled the market from the 1960’s to the late 1990’s, so it’s fair to say that this method is pretty reliable. However, storing data this way does come with its downsides. Sometimes, files get split between blocks that are far away from each other. This means in future, the data has to be accessed from multiple spots on the platter so the hard drive takes longer to serve up the file. You might have already heard of ‘defragmentation’, which is the process of putting all the fragmented files back in the same order again so they can be quickly accessed. If you choose a machine with a HDD, making sure your machine is ‘defragged’ will help keep your machine running efficiently. Nowadays, many Windows machines will automatically defrag for you but if yours doesn’t or you’re not sure if it can, Defraggler can quickly defragment HDDs.

That’s not the only potential downside to choosing a HDD; they’re also heavier and bulkier than SSDs. As technology has developed, they now come as standard in less expensive machines but that’s not such a bad thing - it all depends on your requirements. If you’re planning on leaving your PC at home and price is a real consideration, HDDs can still offer great value.

What is a Solid-State Drive (or SSD)?
SSDs came about in the late 1970’s or 80’s but weren’t really used in the mass consumer market until the 2000s. Unlike HDDs there is no disk and arm; in fact, the SSD has no moving parts at all. It's probably easiest to describe an SSD as a large USB drive that sit inside your computer.

When you’re scrolling through the different types of machines on the market you might have noticed that SSDs don't come as standard in the budget options. SSDs are more expensive but are they worth it?

If you want a laptop to take out and about - probably yes. It’s quite likely that whilst getting from A to B your machine might experience the odd bump. As SSDs don’t have any moving parts they are typically more resistant to physical shock than a HDD, so make travelling with your laptop relatively stress-free. SSDs also have a better areal storage density than HDDs so are smaller, lighter, and will pack way more performance. They’ll maintain a fast access time throughout their lifespan and will typically use less power so will help retain battery. They also do not require defragging (their solid make-up means its not possible). Overall, a machine with an SSD makes a much better travel companion.

OK, so SSD v HDD: Which should I buy?
If price is a major consideration and your machine will stay at home, a HDD for bulk storage is perfectly adequate. HDDs have a typically longer lifespan than an SSD and ran with a newer version of Windows with automatic defrag, the HDD will maintain itself. HDD's can offer great value for money.

If you’re looking to take your machine out and about, the additional durability and speed that an SSD provides means it’s probably worth splashing out for. A machine with SSD storage will provide the size, weight and power consumption gains required from a machine on the move.

Lastly, whether you choose a HDD or SSD, it’s important to remember that technology doesn't last forever and that no form of storage is indestructible. For total peace of mind, we recommend that you use a cloud backup platform like Dropbox or Google Drive, or at least backup your most important files onto a USB or external hard drive.

Once your new machine is up and running, we recommend that you use a PC cleaner and optimizer like CCleaner to safely delete the junk and useless files that will build up during its lifetime. Regularly cleaning your machine on the inside will keep it running faster, for longer. 

If you have any questions please feel free to get in touch with support or you can tweet us (we're @Piriform).

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