What do all the storage drives and their labels mean, like HDD and SSD? Is SSD always better than HDD? Where do flash drives come into the picture? Read on to learn about the common data storage technologies available today, and find out which will work best for you.
The HDD option is the oldest option, and one of the easiest to understand. It stands for Hard Disk Drive (featured photo above), and means exactly what it says: It uses a physical disk that stores data permanently for you.
This disk or platter has a magnetic layer that records information by making microscopic changes in the magnetic field to create binary language (off and on, 1 and 0, etc.). Even if the computer shuts off entirely, the magnetic material retains this information, so it can be accessed when the computer is turned back on or when the hard drive is moved to a new computer.
These storage drives are old – very old. IBM invented back when computers were the size of large rooms. Toda’s HDDs may look sleek and speedy, but they still use that same technology. The only difference is in the quality of materials and the number of platters that can be store in a single drive. You can often recognize an HDD just by the sound they make – that “computer” noise that sounds like a small wheel turning very quickly somewhere inside. Indeed, the speed and quality of HDDs are often determined by RPMs, the literal number of revolutions the platters can make per minute as data is being read and transferred.
HDDs still have their uses. They can be found on all bigger, bulkier computers (including laptops) and in large data arrays where their physical stability and reliability has high value. But for many of today’s smallest devices, the HDD option is impractical, and it has been replaced or augmented by newer tech.
SSD stands for solid state drive, the super-fast successor to HDD. The term “solid state” was chosen because unlike HDDs, these storage drives have no moving parts. This makes it both powerful and quiet: SSD technology has been used in devices for decades, but only in the late 2000s did it start replacing HDDs and allowing computers to become much smaller, more nimble devices.
SSDs use microchips and mini-processors or “controllers” to instantly write or read data as needed. With no moving parts, they don’t wear out easily like HDDs. Their evolution has also given them the ability to reduce errors and self-correct if necessary. They can operate at least twice as fast as HDDs without any trouble. However, these great qualities also make SSDs very, very expensive. If you want a cheap computer, steer clear of solid state features. SSDs may also develop unique problems of their own, such as write amplification, a fancy term for inefficient data rewriting that gradually fills up the SSD with stray bits of data.
You have probably heard the term “flash drive” bandied about as well, and may want to know what benefits it offers compared to other options. This is a great example of how confusing computer lingo can be: There’s not really a difference between an SSD and a flash drive. A flash drive simply uses integrated circuits to store data either in single layers or multiple layers, just like an SSD. The only difference is that the SSD includes the controller, the processor that manages the data and allows the component to function as a full hard drive.
Simpler flash drives without the extra controller features are typically used as USB or jump drives that can swiftly exchange information but still fit on your keychain or in your pocket. They may not be able to overwrite existing data on their own, but they are very handy for smaller files if you do cannot exchange information through cloud computer – as every modern office has discovered.
Hybrid Storage Drives
Hybrid drives combine aspects of both HDD and SSD technology. They use both the traditional spinning platters and the integrated circuits of SSD. For the data that the computer needs to access quickly, information is stored on the SSD portion. For data that is held in long-term storage, the HDD is accessed.
The result is a hybrid drive that costs less than a full SSD but offer many of the same speedy benefits for your typical computer activities. Of course, have two different technologies work as one can pose some problems, especially when it comes to automated caching capabilities and people who want more customized control of their hard drives. For everyday purposes, however, hybrid drives combine the best of both worlds – unless you can afford the steep SSD price tags.