To keep it simple, a hard disk drive (HDD) is an old-school storage device that uses mechanical platters and a moving read/write head to access data.
A solid-state drive (SSD) is a newer, faster type of device that stores data on instantly-accessible memory chips.
Continue reading to understand the major differences between the two types of hard drives, and to fins out what kind would be the best choice for your computer.
WHAT IS A HDD (HARD DISK DRIVE)
The technology behind hard disk drives is well known and well-tested. Hard disk drives have been around for more than 50 years, steadily increasing their storage capacity and decreasing their physical size. HDDs rely on spinning disks, or platters, to read and write data.
HOW HDD's WORK
Hard disk drives consist of one or more magnetically-sensitive platters, an actuator arm with a read/write head on it for each platter, and a motor to spin the platters and move the arms. There is also an I/O controller and firmware that tells the hardware what to do and communicates with the rest of the system.
HDD READING AND WRITING
Each time you ask your computer to retrieve or update data, the I/O controller tells the actuator arm where that data is located, and the read/write head gathers the data by reading the presence or absence of a charge in each address. If the request was to update the data, the read/write head changes the charge on the affected track and sector.
The time it takes for the platter to spin and the actuator arm to find the correct track and sector is known as latency.
The drawbacks to HDDs are a result of the mechanical parts used to read and write data, as physically finding and retrieving data takes more time than electronically finding and retrieving data. The mechanical parts can skip or even fail if they are handled roughly or dropped. This is a concern in laptops, but not as much in desktops. HDDs are also heavier and use more energy than comparable SSDs.
The benefits of a hard disk drives are that they are a proven technology, and are frequently less expensive than a solid state drives for the same amount of storage. Currently, HDDs are also available with more storage space than SSDs.
WHAT IS A SSD (SOLID STATE DRIVE)
Solid state drives use flash memory to deliver superior performance and durability. Without moving parts, SSDs are more durable, run cooler and use less energy.
HOW NAND WORKS
SSDs can be thought of as large USB drives; they use the same base technology. NAND, the technology in solid state drives, is a kind of flash memory. At the lowest level, floating gate transistors record a charge (or lack of a charge) to store data. The gates are organized in a grid pattern, which is further organized into a block. Block size can vary, but each row that makes up the grid is called a page.
An SSD controller that performs several functions, including keeping track of where data is located.
READING AND WRITING
Updating data is more complex for SSDs. All the data in a block must be refreshed when any portion of it is updated. The data on the old block is copied to a different block, the block is erased, and the data is rewritten with the changes to a new block.
Each time you ask your computer to retrieve or update data, the SSD controller looks at the address of the data requested and reads the charge status.
When the drive is idle, a process called garbage collection goes through and makes sure the information in the old block is erased and that the block is free to be written to again.
There is another process, called TRIM, that informs the SSD that it can skip rewriting certain data when it erases blocks. Because there are a finite number of times any block can be rewritten, this is an important process that prevents premature wear on the storage drive.
To further prevent wear on the drive, there is an algorithm to make sure that each block in the drive gets an equal amount of read/write processes. This process is called wear leveling and happens automatically as the drive is working.
Because the read/write process requires data movement, SSDs are usually overprovisioned with storage; there is always a certain amount of the drive that is not reported to the operating system, and not accessible to the user. This allows room for the drive to move and delete items without affecting the overall storage capacity.
SSDs are newer technology, and as such, are more expensive than HDDs. Although they are catching up, it can be harder to find large-capacity solid state drives. HDDs can be as much as 2.5 times larger.
Solid state drives deliver faster load times for games, applications, and movies. Because of the technology they use, SSDs are lighter and better able to withstand movement and droppage. In addition, solid state drives use less energy, allowing computers to run cooler.