Is all data saved on hard drive?

A hard drive is “a data-storage device consisting of a drive and one or more hard disks” (Merriam-Webster). It is a key component of computers and other devices, providing non-volatile storage for long-term data retention. The purpose of this article is to explore what types of data are typically stored on hard drives versus other storage mediums.

Hard drives have been the primary form of long-term data storage on computers for decades. But with the advancement of solid state drives and cloud storage options, there are now more options for where data can be stored. This article will provide an overview of what types of data is typically saved directly on hard drives versus other storage mediums. We’ll also look at the pros and cons of using hard drives for data storage.

Types of Storage Devices

There are several different types of data storage devices that allow users to store and access data in different ways (source). Some of the most common types of storage devices include:

  • Hard disk drives (HDD) – These use rotating magnetic disks to store data. HDDs are a common type of internal storage in computers and servers.
  • Solid state drives (SSD) – SSDs store data on flash memory chips. They are faster than HDDs but often more expensive per gigabyte.
  • USB flash drives – These small, portable drives connect via USB ports. They provide a convenient way to transfer files between devices.
  • Cloud storage – With cloud storage, data is stored on remote servers accessed over the internet. It provides flexible, scalable storage without local hardware.

Each type of storage has its own strengths and weaknesses in areas like speed, portability, capacity, durability, and cost. When choosing storage, factors like usage patterns, budget, and data security needs should be considered.

Data Stored on Hard Drives

Hard drives typically store the operating system, applications, and personal files of a computer. The operating system manages all the software and hardware, providing structure for applications and an interface for users. Common operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux are installed and run from the hard drive. Without the operating system, the computer could not function properly.

Applications such as Microsoft Office, web browsers, games, and graphics programs are also stored and accessed from the hard drive. When an application is launched, it is loaded from the hard drive into the computer’s RAM or memory to be executed. The hard drive allows persistent storage of applications; they do not need to be reinstalled each time the computer restarts.

In addition to software, hard drives store a user’s personal files and documents. These can include photos, music, videos, Word documents, spreadsheets, and more. Hard drives provide abundant, inexpensive storage for this data. Users can quickly access and modify these personal files stored locally on the hard drive.

Hard drives are ideal for storing the operating system, applications, and personal files due to their capacity, speed, and reliability. The operating system manages how data is stored on blocks of the hard drive for optimal performance. (

Data Not on Hard Drives

While hard drives are a common place to store data on a computer, they are not the only option. Data can also be stored in the following places:

Cloud Storage – Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud allow users to store files and data remotely on servers accessed over the internet. Cloud storage provides more flexibility, accessibility and collaboration compared to local hard drives. According to Quora, cloud storage is becoming increasingly popular for both personal and business use.

External Hard Drives – External hard drives connect to a computer externally either wirelessly or via USB, Thunderbolt or Firewire. External drives provide expanded storage capacity while still relying on traditional HDD technology. They can be portable and used across multiple devices. Brands like Western Digital and Seagate are popular manufacturers of external HDDs.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) – NAS devices are dedicated file storage servers connected to a local area network. They contain multiple hard drives internally and allow centralized access and sharing of data across networked devices. NAS provides scalable and flexible storage for homes and businesses.

While hard drives remain a key data storage technology, cloud services, external drives and NAS provide alternative solutions with distinct advantages depending on the use case.

Advantages of Hard Drives

Hard drives have several key advantages that make them a popular data storage device, including speed, reliability, and price.


Hard disk drives (HDDs) provide good sequential read/write speeds, especially for large files. Internal hard drives can have data transfer rates up to 160MB/s, while external hard drives using USB 3.0 can reach speeds of 500MB/s.


When stored and handled properly, hard drives are generally reliable for many years. According to Backblaze data, over 90% of hard drives survive for three years and 80% for four years.


Hard drives offer more storage capacity per dollar compared to solid state drives. As of 2022, 1TB hard drives cost around $40 while 1TB SSDs start around $80. This makes HDDs a budget-friendly option for high capacity storage.

Disadvantages of Hard Drives

One significant disadvantage of hard disk drives is that they are vulnerable to failure and physical damage. Hard drives have mechanically moving parts like actuator arms and platters which makes them more prone to breakage over time, especially compared to solid-state drives which have no moving parts. A hard drive failure can occur due to worn out parts, overheating, physical shock, water damage, power spikes, and many other causes. Once a hard drive fails, the data stored on it will become inaccessible and potentially unrecoverable without professional data recovery services. According to statistics, around 2-10% of hard drives fail each year.

Hard drives are also susceptible to “bad sectors” which are parts of the disk platter that become damaged and can no longer reliably store data. Bad sectors often crop up over time as a result of normal wear and tear. The more bad sectors on a hard drive, the more prone it is to crashing. Hard drives are limited in their shock resistance as well. Dropping a hard drive or laptop, or even moving one while it’s actively writing or reading data, could cause catastrophic head crashes or spindle motor failures.

Overall, while hard drives offer large and cost-effective storage, their potential to fail due to physical damage makes them less reliable for long-term data storage compared to solid-state drives. Users must be sure to handle hard drives gently, keep backups, and watch for signs of impending failure.

When to Use Hard Drives

Hard drives are a good choice for frequently accessed data that needs fast retrieval speeds. The mechanical parts inside a traditional hard drive can access data quickly, usually within milliseconds. This makes them a suitable option for applications like operating systems, software programs, and files that are opened and edited often.

Hard drives also provide a lot of storage capacity for the price. For 1 terabyte of storage, an external hard drive costs approximately $50 while a 1 terabyte solid state drive costs around $100. If you need several terabytes of storage space on a budget, hard drives present the most affordable solution.

With their fast speeds and low cost per gigabyte, hard drives work well as primary internal storage in desktop PCs and laptops. They also serve as useful external storage for frequently used files that you want quick access to from multiple devices.

Alternatives to Hard Drives

While hard disk drives (HDDs) have been the traditional storage device for computers, they are not the only option. Solid state drives (SSDs) are increasingly being used as an alternative to HDDs. SSDs use flash memory instead of spinning platters, which allows them to be much faster than HDDs. According to Newegg Business, SSDs generally have higher data transfer rates, run silently, do not vibrate, and are less susceptible to physical shocks. This makes them better suited for applications where speed and reliability are critical.

In addition to SSDs, cloud storage and network-attached storage (NAS) devices offer alternatives for accessing data. As Quora notes, cloud storage allows data to be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. This provides flexibility, but can also be expensive for large amounts of data storage. NAS devices connect to a local network, providing centralized storage that can be accessed by multiple devices on that network. This allows data to be easily shared and backed up.

While HDDs are still the cheapest form of high-capacity storage, SSDs, cloud storage, and NAS devices all offer their own advantages. The right storage solution depends on the specific needs in terms of speed, accessibility, capacity, and budget.

The Future of Hard Drives

Hard disk drives have long served as the primary form of data storage, but their future is uncertain as solid state drives become more affordable and gain market share. However, hard drive manufacturers continue to innovate to increase capacities and improve performance.

Seagate recently announced plans to release 40TB hard drives using HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) technology in the next few years, a huge leap from today’s largest 16TB models (AnandTech, 2023). HAMR uses lasers to briefly heat bits so they can be magnetically written on a smaller area, allowing for greater densities. Seagate expects hard drives to reach capacities up to 100TB or more using HAMR over the next decade.

However, SSDs are rapidly dropping in price and their share of the storage market is growing quickly. SSDs provide faster access speeds, use less power, generate less heat, and offer more ruggedness compared to hard drives. Major PC makers like Dell now ship more SSD laptops than hard drive models. Yet hard drives retain advantages in cost per gigabyte and high capacities that make them appealing for tasks like data archiving and backup.

In the future, hard drives will likely find more specialized roles in cold storage, network attached storage, and other applications where low cost per terabyte remains critical. But SSDs will continue displacing hard drives in consumer devices and performance-centric use cases.


In summary, while hard disk drives remain one of the most common forms of data storage, they are not the only option available. Hard drives excel at storing large amounts of data and are more affordable than solid state drives. However, solid state drives are faster, lighter, and more durable. External storage devices like USB flash drives provide additional benefits like portability. Cloud-based storage offers security and accessibility advantages. Hard drives will likely continue to be a major part of most computing setups, but alternative storage solutions each have their own strengths that make them better suited for certain applications and use cases.

In the end, most personal and professional computing environments employ a combination of storage devices in order to maximize capabilities and leverage the advantages of each technology. So while a considerable amount of data resides on traditional hard disk drives, other forms of storage are also widely used today. The storage landscape continues to evolve with emerging technologies on the horizon, but hard drives remain a relevant, reliable, and cost-effective data storage solution.