SSD vs HDD – Which is Better for Gaming?

When it comes to making purchases with the intention of upgrading your existing PC or buying a totally new machine, it can be hard to decide what you need. Whatever you decide will depend on a number of different factors, like price, durability, and speed. Especially speed, though, for gaming.

In this article, we will look in particular at which type of storage is better. We will weigh up the pros and cons of HDDs and SSDs, side by side. But before we get into the comparisons, starting first with HDDs, let’s take a look to see how each works, and what this means for gamers.

SSD vs HDD – Which is Better for Gaming?

HDD (Hard Disk Drives)

HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive. Most laptop computers and desktop computers come with this type of drive, even now after a couple years of SSD technology being an option. It is usually a specifically indicated selling point if this is not the case (if the machine uses SSD).

Inside a hard drive like this, there is a small, smooth disk called a platter, and a reading and writing arm. The platter is subdivided into millions of small sections, each of which can be independently magnetized. The reading and writing arm zig zags across the platter, which rotates at high speeds.

As the arm moves across the disk, it finds specific snippets of information by using the file allocation table (FAT). It also writes new information using the table to indicate where the data is for future reference.

The number of times the hard disk can rotate per minute is called the RPM, and it determines the speed of the hard drive. Thus, the RPM is a key detail about your hard drive. It gives a rough indication of how long the wait is for the operating system and applications to load using that disk.

SSD (Solid State Drives)

A Solid State Drive (SSD) is called that because unlike the HDDs, there are no moving parts inside. They are in a solid-state. The best way to explain SSDs work is to consider memory (RAM). RAM is a flash drive, and in essence, so is an SSD. The key difference is that an SSD will retain information even after powering off and on again. RAM gets wiped upon powering down.

Inside the drive are electrical grids, which are then divided into pages. These pages in the drive are then allocated in blocks. The drive takes new information and can only write it to an empty page. It cannot add to the information on a page.

If the drive fills all the empty pages up to the last block, then the SSD will need to go through previously written blocks. The trouble is that it can only delete information by the block. So, it selects a block with a lot of empty pages (from where files have been deleted), commits the remaining data in the memory (RAM), then wipes the entire block. After wiping the block, it rewrites the data from the memory, but in a compact way. The unused pages remain blank and can be used.

Hard Drives in Gaming – Why it Matters

Since all of your non-browser based games are installed on your internal hard drive, it is certainly worth the effort to consider which type you should invest in. Your operating system is also based on the hard drive and will run differently depending on whether you have SSD or HDD. Differences include speed and max capacity, which we will discuss below. What you should not expect to see much of a difference in is the frames per second that you get. Both SSD and HDD are roughly the same in this regard, or sometimes less on the SSD.

Speed

HDD

Hard disks have a much slower way of retrieving data than SSDs. This makes them far, far slower at booting up your operating system, applications, and games. They need to slog through file transfers and installations as well, unfortunately. Menu selections within games are sluggish. All in all, the file writing and reading will take long – but this is nothing new. We have used HDDs for 30+ years.

In addition to slowness, HDDS also take up 7% of your CPU when in use (most of the time). This can potentially slow down your machine even more.

SSD

SSDs are much faster than HDDs. They are electric, and their file search can take as low as 1/20th the amount of time that HDDs take to perform the same feat. Generally, the boot time of any program including windows will be one third of the time it would be on a traditional disk. File transfers are lightning quick as well, and all while the CPU usage remains at 1%.
The drawback of an SSD is that it slows down once all the pages have been written on, and the machine has to scour for space. They are still faster than HDDs at this stage, but they won’t be like brand new.

Capacity

HDD

For the same amount of space on an SSD drive, you would be paying at least 4 times as much as for an HDD. The maximum that you can buy of internal HDD space at the moment is 10TB. In a single disk! External HDDs run at around 4TB, and it’s not likely that you will be able to find more than that at the moment.

SSD

The biggest solid-state drive on the market as it stands has 2 terabytes of space. To buy it though, you’ll probably have to give an arm and a leg, as it costs roughly $500. You can still buy small SSDs, like 128GB, which have their own uses – that I will get around to later.

Durability

HDD

HDDs are quite durable when it comes to keeping files for a long time. They have the advantage of being able to store data almost indefinitely while powered down. I say almost because magnetic states can get weaker over long periods of time. This can cause data loss, but it will only ever happen if you don’t use the disk for years. Another thing that can endanger your files is magnetization. If anything magnetic comes in the vicinity of the hard disk, it could corrupt your stored documents. HDDs can be written and rewritten endlessly, without the mechanism by which storage happens being compromised.

SSD

Because of the way that SSDs are designed to work, they have a finite number of rewrites for each cell. It is likely that even with intense, daily use, you will never reach that limit, though. Even if you do somehow manage to reach that point, the files simply become read-only and are salvageable. So you can simply copy them and move them to a new drive.

Even with the power off and no electrical current, the SSD keeps the files. This is the difference between RAM and SSDs. But because the SSD works using an electrical grid, the amount of time it can hold on to data without power is not infinite. Depending on the brand, quality, and age, they can let go of information as soon as 3 months to as long as 10 years without power. To avoid this, of course, just turn it on sometimes.

Reliability

HDD

Recent tests have shown that an HDD is a lot less reliable than an SSD can be. This makes sense because these have moving parts, which are susceptible to malfunction, or just plain old wearing down with use. The moving parts also make the HDD sensitive to impact, and it could happen that if you drop your hard drive, then you could do irreparable damage to it. Although, this is not likely to happen to an internal hard drive since it is firmly rooted inside your computer.

SSD

SSDs are extremely reliable, with no moving parts, and the data being recoverable even after the hard drive cannot write data in anymore. The failure rate of SSDs stands at a cool 0.5%, which makes all the difference compared to the 4-5% for traditional hard disk drives. The only wear that happens is the build-up of voltage in the electrical grid. The voltage across each electrical cell builds up over time, increasing by minuscule amounts each time you write to it or erase form it. In the end, this is what will render the cell unwriteable – the voltage will be too high to write. But like we discussed above, you will probably upgrade your hard drive before you can ever reach this stage.

Price

HDD

With this hard drive, you get a lot more for what you pay. For reference, let’s take a look at some specific prices. For $40, you can purchase a terabyte of hard drive space on an internal disk. If you want to go bigger, a ten terabyte model is around $370. This means that for each GB you are paying 4 cents! Obviously, the price is slightly different for internal and external hard drives, but in this article, we assume you are scouting for internal hard drives.

SSD

On the complete other end of the spectrum as HDDs, SSDs are a big expense if you choose them. Again, getting specific, a terabyte of storage space is at least $160 on an SSD. That’s 16 cents per gigabyte. A solid 4 times as expensive as an HDD with the same space. To get 10 TB of storage using solely SSDs (you probably won’t need to do this, but let’s see where it goes), you will spend $1060! That’s with 5 x 2TB SSDs, as the largest SSD on the market right now is 2 TB. That is a substantial price difference when we compare it to $370 for the same size HDD.
Of course, these are averages based on deals online at the moment, and you can find better offers. But chances are, this is roughly what you will pay.

Noise

HDD

Once again, the moving parts are the HDDs demise. This may not be a deciding factor, but having 2 or 3 hard drives whirring away can cause a ruckus. Inside the HDD, the platter makes its rounds, spinning away at several thousand revolutions per minute. This is the RPM that you will find on hard drive specs, and determines the speed of the hard drive. The higher the RPM, the more the noise the hard drive makes. The brand of the hard drive also influences the amount of sound it produces.

SSD

If you get a computer fitted with an SSD only, you can sit back and enjoy a serene gaming experience. They run completely silently. They make no noise at all, like they aren’t even there! This is yet another advantage of having no moving parts, and being completely electrical. No mechanical hum.

Conclusion

Having looked at all the pros and cons of each type of computer storage option, you can hopefully decide which is best for you. For some, having 10TB is indispensable. For others, it is more important that their operating system and game can all boot in under a minute.

HDDs are better in price and capacity. The two characteristics come hand in hand. But, having 10TB comes at the expense of speed and reliability, not to mention the noise. SSDs are more expensive, but they provide super speeds, amazing boot times, and absolute silence while they are at it.

For those who are on the fence, allow me to make a suggestion: get both an HDD and an SSD. If you have a desktop computer for gaming, then there is space enough to place the two side by side in your case. A lot of gamers are opting to use a smaller SSD (around 256gb) for the storage of their operating system and game files.

Then, they get a huge hard disk drive to store their documents and files that they don’t access day in and day out. This allows for the fast boot time and gaming experience that SSDs can give, while still having huge amounts of storage with an HDD. It’s basically the best of both worlds: cheap and good.

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