Difference in Drives: Hard Drive, Solid State, or M2?

“Hello, this is Tennyson calling from My Computer Bytes. We’ve finished the diagnostic on your computer and it looks like your hard drive is failing. We have a few options for you going forward…”

I have this conversation all the time. Hard drives are one of the least robust and most commonly replaced of computer parts. But did you know there are different kinds of drives to put in your computer?

When this happens to customers I typically recommend installing a new solid state drive. But what’s that? Today I’m going to explain the different types of storage devices for a computer and discuss their pros, cons, and quirks.

Traditional Hard Disc Drives

HDD’s, or hard disc drives, are the oldest and most common storage devices in modern computers. This is slowly changing, however as faster and more efficient types of storage are becoming less expensive.

An HDD is a small metal box with magnetic discs inside of it. Tiny robotic arms use electromagnetic pulses to read and write the data on the these drives. Because of all the mechanics, these drives wear out over time and eventually start having some major read-write troubles.

The biggest pro of HDDs is cost, since these days you can buy a terabyte of data for less than $100. A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes, and that can hold a LOT of pictures! They also can hold more data for less, meaning that storing a ton of data is still usually best to do with HDDs.

Solid State Drives

A SSD or solid state drive is an even tinier little box smaller than the size of a cigarette holder. They’re usually made of plastic and instead of mechanical pieces they store data using tiny electrical capacitors. They are basically larger flash drives that store more data, work faster, and are stored inside your computer.

Solid state technology is amazing because of how fast and durable it is. Because there are no moving parts, they take longer to go bad because reading and writing data is done electronically and almost instantaneously.

The downside to SSDs is that they can store less data and cost more money. But typically SSD’s are only used to store operating systems and smaller amounts of data anyway. Some computer users such as gamers commonly have both and SSD and an HDD in their computer so that it runs quickly but can also store a lot.

M.2 Solid State Drives

An M.2 is a faster, physically smaller, and more efficient solid state drive that mounts directly to the main board of your computer as opposed to being connected with cables. Although it’s the latest cutting-edge storage solution for desktops, they’ve been in laptops and tablets for longer than you might think.

M.2 technology is, I think, still in its infancy. They are still expensive and sometimes buggy (they take a bit more tweaking) but are the fastest consumer storage option on the market right now.

The pros and cons for M.2 drives are similar to regular solid state drives, but to a greater extent in both directions. We install them only in the most top-of-the-line systems we build.

Flash Drives

I think everyone knows what a flash drive is but I’ll go over it anyway. Flash drives are also known as thumb drives, jump drives, portable memory sticks, and “little computer things.”

Flash drives are basically for quick transportation of data. They are tiny solid state drives that plug into the USB ports on a computer or other device. It’s often the easiest and most efficient way of transferring files from one computer to another, backing up small amounts of data, or sharing files with someone.

Because of their typically low size and relative inefficiency, flash drives can’t replace internal disc drives like HDDs and SSDs. But they are useful in a pinch for smaller and more short-term data storage.

External Hard Drives

External HDDs are basically flash drives that are bigger in both physical size and data storage. Like flash drives, they can’t replace internal computer drives. They are best used for data back-ups or supplemental mass storage.

External drives come in HDD form and not SSD form because the speed boost from using an SSD is bottlenecked by USB. If that’s too technical for you, just know that external drives are not the fastest way to store data and is more suited for mass usage or backups.

If you run out of space on your SSD and don’t have an HDD installed, an external is a cheap alternative to a new HDD install. The downside is that it is slower and stays outside of your computer case, but the advantage is that it’s portable.

Which to Use?

If you are having us work on your computers, we will recommend the best storage solution to you. SSDs are becoming more standard for us, but in some cases it may be more advantageous to choose a different component.

In short, SSDs are great for storing your operating system on, HDDs are the better option for mass storage, and M.2 drives are an emerging and super-fast technology. Flash drives and external HDD’s are portable and don’t go inside of your computer.

If you think you might have a bad hard drive or if you need to figure the best storage solution for you or your organization, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Or come see me in the shop between 10 and 6 on weekdays.

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