When it comes to external storage devices, Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are two of the most popular options. Portable SSDs and HDDs provide extra storage space and the ability to transfer files between devices. But which one is better for most users’ needs?
Here are some quick answers to common questions about portable SSDs vs HDDs:
Is an SSD faster than an HDD?
Yes, SSDs are much faster than HDDs due to their flash memory and lack of moving parts. SSDs have read/write speeds over 400MB/s while HDDs max out around 100MB/s.
Is an SSD more reliable and durable than an HDD?
Generally yes. SSDs are less susceptible to damage from drops and vibration due to lack of moving parts. And SSDs have lower failure rates than HDDs in real-world use.
Is an SSD better for gaming than an HDD?
Yes. The faster speeds of SSDs result in much quicker game launch and level load times. HDDs can cause lag and long load times.
Is an SSD or HDD better for video editing?
SSDs are better for editing video footage and projects. The faster speeds allow for smoother editing and rendering. HDDs may struggle with high-bitrate 4K/8K footage.
Is an SSD or HDD better for photographers?
SSDs are generally better for photographers due to faster transfer speeds when working with large RAW image files. SSDs also provide faster preview rendering.
When it comes to capacities, SSDs and HDDs both offer a range of storage space options. Here’s an overview:
- Portable HDD capacities range from 500GB to 10TB+
- Portable SSD capacities range from 250GB to 8TB
HDDs can offer larger maximum capacities for cheaper prices per gigabyte. But SSD capacities up to 8TB are more than enough for most users.
Speed and Performance
One of the biggest differences between SSDs and HDDs is speed. SSDs have a major performance advantage over HDDs:
SSDs have much faster access times than HDDs. Access time is the delay between a request for data and receiving it from the drive. It’s one of the main factors that determines storage performance.
|Average Access Time
As you can see, SSDs are over 100 times faster than HDDs when it comes to data access times. This is because they use flash memory with no moving parts.
Data Transfer Speeds
SSDs also provide significantly faster data transfer speeds compared to HDDs. This is measured by read and write speeds.
|Max Read Speed
|Max Write Speed
|up to 1050 MB/s
|up to 1000 MB/s
|up to 140 MB/s
|up to 140 MB/s
The latest SATA III SSDs offer sustained real-world speeds of over 400 MB/s for both reads and writes. Whereas portable HDDs max out around 100-140 MB/s.
Reliability and Durability
Reliability and durability are two important considerations when choosing a portable storage drive. Let’s compare SSDs and HDDs:
Shock and Vibration Resistance
SSDs are better able withstand shocks and vibration thanks to having no moving parts. HDDs contain sensitive platters and heads that can fail if disturbed. SSDs are very resistant to drops and bumps.
Studies of large data center deployments have found SSDs to have lower annualized failure rates (AFR) than HDDs. Consumer-grade SSDs have AFR around 0.5-2%, while portable HDDs are over twice that at around 4-6%.
SSDs used to have issues with wear over time, but modern SSDs can easily write hundreds of terabytes before failure. High-quality SSDs can match HDDs’ 5 year average lifespan.
Overall SSDs are more reliable and durable for portable storage use than HDDs. Their lack of moving parts gives them resistance to shock, vibration, and general wear and tear.
Data security is crucial for external drives that may contain sensitive information. Here’s how SSDs and HDDs compare:
Both SSDs and HDDs provide hardware encryption options to protect data in case of device theft or loss. Some drives support AES 256-bit encryption. Make sure to enable encryption if storing private data.
To permanently delete sensitive data, SSDs and HDDs both support techniques like full drive erasure and cryptographic erase. With SSDs you also have the option of fast and efficient block erase to sanitize the entire drive.
Some higher-end portable SSDs and HDDs come with biometric authentication via fingerprint or facial recognition. This provides convenient access while helping stop unauthorized users.
SSDs and HDDs are evenly matched when it comes to security capabilities. The available options like encryption and biometric unlock allow you to protect your data.
In terms of compatibility, portable SSDs and HDDs are similarly versatile and can be used with most devices:
- Desktop PCs – both SSDs and HDDs can be plugged into desktops via USB, Thunderbolt, etc.
- Laptops – portable drives of either type can connect to laptops through USB ports.
- Gaming Consoles – external SSDs and HDDs can expand storage for Xbox, Playstation, etc.
- Tablets – devices like iPads support external SSD/HDD storage via adaptors or hubs.
- Smart TVs – streaming boxes and smart TVs often have USB ports to use portable drives.
SSDs do have wider platform support than HDDs for very old operating systems. But for modern devices, SSDs and HDDs have excellent cross-platform compatibility.
External storage drives are designed for portability and mobile use. Here’s how SSDs and HDDs stack up:
Size and Weight
SSDs are smaller in physical size and lighter in weight than HDDs. For example, a 2TB SSD may be 0.4 x 3.0 x 2.4 inches and weigh around 4 ounces. A 2TB HDD is typically larger at 0.8 x 3.2 x 4.4 inches and over 6 ounces.
The smaller footprint and lesser mass of SSDs makes them better suited for true portability. SSDs can comfortably fit into pockets and small bags or cases.
As mentioned earlier, SSDs are better able withstand bumps and shakes while portable. You don’t have to worry as much about a portable SSD getting damaged while traveling.
If maximum portability is a priority, SSDs have a strong advantage over HDDs. Their compact and rugged nature makes SSDs the better choice for frequent transport.
Power and Battery
Power consumption and battery drain are more important considerations for computing devices than standalone drives. Still, there are some differences between SSDs and HDDs:
Lower Power Draw
SSDs consume less active and idle power than HDDs, often around 25-33% less. This extends laptop battery life and reduces electricity costs over time.
For desktop PCs, this power difference is negligible. But for laptops, SSDs deliver noticeable power savings.
Better Battery Life
Tests of battery runtimes while active show SSDs provide 30-60 minutes more runtime compared to HDDs. The lower power draw adds up over time.
SSDs are the better choice than HDDs if trying to maximize battery runtime for mobile devices and laptops.
Noise and Heat
Two often overlooked differentiators between SSDs and HDDs are noise and heat output:
HDDs require spinning discs and movable heads, which contribute noise from the drive. SSDs produce virtually no audible noise since they lack moving parts.
Similarly, SSDs run significantly cooler than HDDs. Lower power draw and no spinning motors greatly reduce heat generation. SSDs don’t require cooling methods like heat sinks.
For external portable drives, noise and heat are lesser concerns. But SSDs generate far less of both compared to HDDs.
Cost and Value
One area where HDDs have an advantage over SSDs is price and cost per gigabyte of storage. Here are the key considerations:
SSD Cost Per GB
SSD cost per gigabyte ranges from around $0.15 to $0.30. More affordable consumer SSDs sit around $0.20-$0.25 per GB.
HDD Cost Per GB
HDD cost per gigabyte ranges from around $0.03 to $0.06. Budget HDDs provide $0.04-$0.05 per GB.
As a result 1TB portable SSDs cost between $100-$300, while 1TB portable HDDs range from $40-$80.
HDDs are far cheaper per gigabyte than SSDs. But keep in mind the performance and reliability benefits of SSDs often make them the better value overall.
So which is better for a portable external drive, SSD or HDD? Here is a quick summary:
Reasons to choose a portable SSD:
- Faster read/write speeds
- Lower access times
- Better durability and shock resistance
- Lower failure rates
- Often better value for performance
- More compact and lighter
- Generate less heat
Reasons to choose a portable HDD:
- Cheaper cost per gigabyte
- Higher maximum capacities
- Good enough speeds for many users
For most users, portable SSDs provide the ideal mix of speed, reliability, durability, and value. HDDs are cheaper per gigabyte but come with major tradeoffs in performance and durability. Power users with specific high capacity needs may still benefit from HDDs. But SSDs are the best choice for a portable external drive for a majority of people.