An SSD and an HDD for comparison

The difference between
SSD and HDD

Black and white image of a hard drive

SSDs and HDDs basically do the same thing: store applications and personal files, and boot systems. If you’re looking to add speed to an old desktop PC or laptop or if you’re choosing a drive for new PC builds, servers or system builds, how do you know which to choose? Should it be an SSD (solid-state drive) or an HDD (hard disk drive)?

To start, the two are engineered in totally different ways. SSDs are built using a non-volatile storage technology called NAND flash that doesn’t need power to retain data.

Since the mid-1950s, computers have used HDDs which are based on magnetic spinning platters. They use moving heads that read and write data to the spinning platters or disks. HDDs are mechanical devices with many moving parts and are more prone to mechanical failures and failures due to environmental conditions such as heat, cold, shock and vibration.

Kingston 2.5” KC600 SSD

SSDs are not impacted by the size and shape limitations of hard drives. HDD platters are circular which means that data stored at the outer edge is accessed faster than data stored at the centre. With an SSD drive, it doesn’t matter where the data is stored on the drive as areas of the drive are accessed at the same speed. HDD performance also suffers from data fragmentation. Over time, your operating system will rearrange data on your HDD, and this will “fragment” file data so that it is no longer contiguous. When files are fragmented, there is a performance penalty when attempting to access this data. An SSD is not significantly impacted by this.

A graphic of glowing lines with a motion blur to represent fast speed

What about speed?

A lot of factors go into gauging drive speed. However, numerous reviewers at technology publications have found that SSDs are faster. For example, when random read performances are compared, SSDs can be more than 20,000 per cent faster than high-performance HDDs.

Even relatively new systems experience a significant performance gain when a traditional HDD is upgraded to an SSD. For example, Kingston's entry-level SSDs are ten times faster than a spinning HDD with faster access to programs and files.

In case you were wondering if data or an operating system can be transferred from an HDD to an SSD, the answer is yes. Some manufacturers (including Kingston) offer SSDs in upgrade kits that include everything needed to replace a notebook or desktop HDD with an SSD, including the software.

In summary, if your primary need is general mass storage (i.e. pictures, movies or any data that is not accessed often) into the terabytes, traditional HDDs are the best. However, if performance and speed are important, SSDs are the superior choice. While initially, SSDs were significantly more expensive then HDDs, the cost variance has decreased as SSD production and drive capacity increases.

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