SSD vs HDD
By Michael Passingham
Pick a computer with a built-in solid-state drive (SSD) and you’re likely to have to spend more money. But you do get more bang for your buck: faster start-up speeds, slicker data-writing when copying files and a snappier process for opening and swapping between programs.
The downside is less storage space, compared with a conventional hard drive. We explain all you need to know so you can choose the right computer for you with confidence.
What is an SSD?
SSD stands for solid-state drive. This differs from a standard HDD (hard disk drive) because it uses no moving parts. SSDs instead use technology called flash storage that’s controlled entirely by electronic transistors.
A hard disk drive, conversely, uses a magnetic spinning disk and a high-speed arm to load and save data. That process is much slower than the read/write speeds you can get from an SSD.
You can buy external solid-state drives to plug into your computer for backing up files. But for fast computing with speedy start-ups, you can choose a computer with an SSD built in.
HDDs are much cheaper than SSDs. These days you can buy a 2TB (2,000GB) external hard drive for around £50, and it’s even cheaper for a manufacturer to build one of these into a laptop or desktops.
SSDs are far more expensive, and you get less storage capacity for your money. £50 would only get you a 256GB SSD external drive. For many people, this isn’t enough space for all their photos and videos.
You can still opt for a PC with a small built-in SSD and back up your files to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Alternatively, you could consider a hybrid SSD/HDD model (more on these below).
Read our reviews of the best external hard drives
Is an SSD really worth it?
In short, yes. An SSD can make as much difference to a laptop or desktop as a more powerful processor and more Ram. You’ll really feel the difference an SSD can make when the computer boots up.
From our recent reviews, the Acer Aspire 3, which has an HDD, boots up in a respectable 21sec. However, the Dell Inspiron 13 2-in-1, which has a very similar Core i5 processor, booted up in just 9sec thanks to its built-in SSD.
There’s also a big difference when opening programs and loading webpages. Your day-to-day computing will feel faster all-round. Once you’ve used a laptop with an SSD, it’s hard to go back to a regular HDD.
SSD+HDD and hybrid SSHD computers
Look out for Windows computers with SSD+HDD combinations. Thanks to this hybrid approach, you can reap the benefits of an SSD while retaining the high capacity of an HDD.
These are the perfect mix of speed and capacity. The Windows operating system and all your programs are installed on the smaller-capacity SSD, while your large files such as music and videos can be stored on the large-capacity HDD.
So-called ‘hybrid SSHD’ models used to be fairly common but are less so these days. These were HDDs with a small SSD portion for some extra performance, but they’re now largely out of favour.
A newer breed of PC is also arriving with so-called ‘Intel Optane’ storage, which includes a tiny, separate SSD that automatically keeps your most commonly used programs and files, while storing the rest on the slower HDD. These are still relatively uncommon, though.