Choosing a storage device for your computer is probably the least exciting part of picking parts for your computer. However, you obviously need some kind of storage device to hold all of your system’s data, programs, applications, and games. So, in this guide, we’re going to go over how to choose an SSD and hard drive.
The first thing you’ll want to consider when looking for a storage device for your new (or existing) computer is whether you should get an SSD, a traditional mechanical hard drive, or both.
In order to determine which storage option is right for you, it’s important to explain the differences between SSDs and HDDs.
For starters, traditional hard drives are actually mechanical devices—meaning they have moving parts. Mechanical hard drives store data on tracks on spinning discs. And, mechanical hard drives can only access a single point of data on the discs at a time.
On the flip side, SSDs (solid state drives) store data on NAND flash modules and have no moving parts. SSDs usually feature multiple modules of memory on a single drive and more than one of those modules can be accessed at the same time. This gives SSDs a huge performance advantage over traditional hard drives.
However, traditional hard drives aren’t without their own advantages. They are much cheaper than solid state drives. You can grab a brand new 1TB hard drive for a little over ~$40. For that same price, you would only be able to land a 120GB SSD. So, for the same price of a 120GB SSD, you could instead get 8x the amount of storage.
So, there are tradeoffs between the two storage options. And, what most users do is utilize both the speed and performance of an SSD and the value and storage capacity of a mechanical hard drive by purchasing both for their systems.
The idea is that you install your operating system on a smaller solid state drive—as well as a few of your most-used applications—and then get a large mechanical hard drive to store the bulk of your data.
So, while SSDs do significantly outperform traditional hard drives, traditional hard drives do still have a place in the modern computer, as they offer a nice compliment to solid state drives.
The bottom line is that, if you have a huge budget to spend on your system (or on a storage upgrade for your existing system), you might want to look into getting a large capacity SSD.
If you have a moderate budget, your best bet would likely be to get both a lower-to-medium capacity SSD and then pair it with a large mechanical hard drive.
And, if you’re working with a really tight budget, you can either just get a larger mechanical hard drive, or you can start out with a small SSD, and then add a larger mechanical hard drive as a secondary drive when you have the budget for it.
Different users will have different storage needs.
Gamers with large libraries of games, who like to mix it up between the different games they play, will require more storage than a gamer who lives and dies by one game.
Video editors will have to deal with a lot of video files (which are larger than normal files) and will need even more storage.
Basic users who are just looking to build an entry-level gaming PC or a casual system for word processing, web browsing, sending emails, etc. won’t need nearly as much storage.
So, you need to determine how much storage would make sense for you.
It’s also important to note that storage devices are usually the easiest component to add to your system later. So, if it’s not in your budget right now to start out with a ton of storage, it really isn’t that difficult to add another drive or two down the road.
As long as you’re not changing your boot drive (the drive your operating system is installed on), adding storage is usually as simple as installing it in your existing computer and formatting it.
While there isn’t as much to think about with storage compatibility as there is with the compatibility of other computer components, there are still two things that you should consider in terms of storage device compatibility.
- Does your case have the appropriate bay(s) for the storage device(s) you have chosen?
- Can your motherboard support the storage device you have chosen? (Mainly for M.2 drives)
Hard drives and hybrid drives can either come in a 3.5″ format or a 2.5″ format, whereas SSDs can either come in a 2.5″ format (for SATA SSDs) or as an M.2 card (for NVME/PCIe SSDs).
While most computer cases come with space to fit both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drive bays, there are cases out there that don’t offer bays for one or the other of those two sizes.
Some smaller form-factor cases don’t offer 3.5″ drive bays. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t fit a 3.5″ drive inside of them. Sometimes you can fit a 3.5″ drive in an empty area in the case. This isn’t an ideal option, especially since you can purchase both SSDs and hard drives in a 2.5″ format… but it is doable in some instances if you make the mistake of purchasing a 3.5″ hard drive and a case that doesn’t have a 3.5″ bay.
In some instances, especially in older computer cases, there is no specific space for a 2.5″ drive. This is a problem that is much easier to solve than the one list above, as 2.5″ drives are much smaller and can still fit inside of a 3.5″ drive bay—either with an adapter or by just installing screws on one side of the 2.5″ drive.
The most common issue with storage capacity right now is with M.2 drives. Not all motherboards have the necessary M.2 port to install an M.2 drive. So, before you purchase a new NVME M.2 SSD, make sure that your motherboard has an M.2 port to install it into.
As a general rule of thumb, a mechanical hard drive will typically outlast a solid state drive. The memory cells on an SSD can only be written to so many different times, while, in theory, the discs on a mechanical hard drive can be written to an unlimited of times.
However, as a mechanical drive does have moving parts, they will eventually stop working, rendering the drive useless. So, neither option is full proof, but mechanical drives generally last longer than SSDs.
This isn’t to say that SSD’s won’t last a long time. Higher-end SSDs will last longer than low-quality units. And, because larger SSDs have more modules, individual cells won’t be written on as frequently, which will ultimately extend their lifespan.
NVME SSDs are very popular right now and they often boast specs that make it seem like they are significantly faster than traditional SATA SSDs. However, the reality is that in most real-world scenarios, NVME SSDs don’t offer that much of a performance advantage over SATA SSDs.
However, there are instances where NVME SSDs do make sense.
The big advantage that NVME SSDs have is in their superior Sequential read and write speeds. Sequential read and write speeds won’t give a huge performance boost in transferring smaller files, but they do help in transferring larger files. So, for video editors, or anyone working with large files, an NVME can offer a performance boost that is worth paying for.
And, since NVME drives aren’t significantly more expensive than their SATA counterparts, it won’t be detrimental to your budget to purchase an NVME SSD over a SATA SSD in order to gain that performance boost when transferring large files.
Another small advantage of NVME SSDs, in my opinion, is that they do not require the use of SATA cables. If you’re looking to build a new computer and aesthetics and cable management is important to you, the use of an NVME SSD over a traditional SATA SSD effectively eliminates the need for two cables inside of your system.
That might be an insignificant factor for some, but for others, that fact along with the higher sequential read and write speeds might be enough to sway them to an NVME SSD.
A hybrid drive takes the benefits of an SSD and combines them with the value-per-capacity of a mechanical hard drive. A solid state hybrid drive (or SSHD) is essentially a mechanical hard drive with a small SSD built onto it.
Hybrid drives work similar to how a CPUs cache and RAM work together. A CPUs cache will hold frequently-used data so that if the CPU needs it, it can easily access it. However, as a CPU’s cache is often very small, a lot of frequently-used data is stored in a system’s RAM. Data takes longer to access from RAM, but RAM has a higher capacity to store more data.
On a hybrid drive, the idea is that the SSD portion of the drive will hold more frequently-used data so that it can be accessed more quickly, while the hard drive portion of the drive will be used to store less-used data.
So, the key of a hybrid drive is in its prioritization of what data gets stored on the SSD portion of the drive and what portion of data gets stored on the mechanical portion of the drive.
Essentially, SSHDs aren’t as fast as SSDs, but they do cost less per GB. And, SSHDs are faster than traditional mechanical hard drives, but they do cost more per GB.
Which Storage Option/Configuration is Best for Your Needs?
While buying an SSD and/or HDD isn’t as complicated of a process in comparison to purchasing other PC components, there are still some factors that you need to consider when choosing a storage device for your system. In this guide, we’ve given you six different factors to consider to help you choose the right SSD (or hard drive) for your needs.