Is HDD OK for game storage?

When building a gaming PC, one of the most important decisions is what type of storage to use. The two main options are hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs use spinning magnetic disks to store data, while SSDs use flash memory chips with no moving parts.

In recent years, SSDs have risen in popularity for gaming PCs, thanks to their faster speeds compared to HDDs. The improved load times that SSDs offer can provide a smoother, more seamless gaming experience.

However, HDDs have not completely faded from the scene. Their lower prices per gigabyte mean HDDs can offer more storage capacity for the money. This raises the question: is HDD still a viable storage option for gaming in the SSD era?

HDD Pros

One of the main advantages of using a hard disk drive (HDD) for game storage compared to solid state drives (SSDs) is the cheaper cost per gigabyte of storage ( HDDs have moving parts like disk platters and read/write heads which makes them less expensive to manufacture than SSDs which use flash memory chips. This translates into HDDs costing much less per gigabyte of storage capacity.

In addition, HDDs are currently available in larger maximum capacities compared to SSDs. For example, consumer HDDs go up to 20TB while most consumer SSDs top out at 8TB. This allows gamers to get more storage for the money if they choose an HDD ( The abundant space of HDDs makes them better suited for storing large game libraries without breaking the bank.

HDD Cons

One of the main drawbacks of using an HDD for gaming is slower load times compared to SSDs. Because HDDs rely on spinning platters and mechanical arms to read and write data, they have higher access times ranging from 3-12ms versus 0.1-0.2ms for SSDs. This means waiting longer for games and levels to load from the drive (Source 1).

HDDs also tend to generate more noise due to the physical spinning components and moving parts. The noise levels can be distracting, especially during quiet cutscenes or gameplay. SSDs have no moving parts and are completely silent.

Additionally, HDDs generally have higher failure rates than SSDs over time. The mechanical nature of HDDs leads to more points of failure from head crashes or motor issues. SSDs based on flash memory chips tend to be more durable and reliable.

Game Load Times

One of the biggest differences between HDDs and SSDs is load times for games. SSDs provide much faster load times due to their higher read/write speeds compared to traditional hard drives. For many gamers, shorter load times can greatly improve the gameplay experience.

Tests show that for games like Grand Theft Auto V, load times can be up to 4 times faster on an SSD versus a HDD. Other popular games like Fortnite and Overwatch see similar gains with SSDs reducing wait times getting into matches by 30 seconds or more.

The faster seek times of SSDs compared to the moving mechanical parts of HDDs account for these major differences. For competitive online multiplayer games where getting into the game fast matters, SSDs can provide a real advantage.

However, for slower paced or offline single player games, some gamers may be fine sticking with a HDD to save money. But for fast-paced competitive games where load times impact the experience, investing in an SSD can be worth it.


When looking at reliability, HDDs have traditionally had higher failure rates than SSDs. This is due to HDDs having moving mechanical parts like actuator arms and platters that are more prone to failure over time with use. However, HDD technology and manufacturing has improved significantly, so modern HDDs can have annual failure rates around 1-2% whereas SSDs are usually lower than 1%.

To account for potential drive failure, it’s highly recommended to setup redundancy and backups for important game data. Options include:

  • RAID 1 mirroring to duplicate data across two HDDs
  • External HDD backups
  • Cloud storage backups

With redundancy and backups, HDD reliability should not be a major concern for game storage. The small differences in annual failure rates between HDDs and SSDs can be mitigated.

Noise Levels

HDDs contain moving mechanical parts like actuator arms and spinning platters which can generate audible noise during operation. In comparison, SSDs have no moving parts and are virtually silent.

The noise levels of HDDs can vary greatly depending on factors like drive rotations per minute (RPMs), build quality, workload intensity, and environmental conditions like temperature and vibration [1]. Most modern HDDs operate at noise levels between 20 to 30 dBA, which is equivalent to very quiet background noise. High performance enterprise HDDs can reach up to 36 dBA under heavy workloads.

For gaming usage, HDD noise may be noticeable but often drowned out by case fans, GPU fans, and ambient noise. Lower RPM drives around 5400 RPM generally have quieter acoustics. Noise dampening features like anti-vibration mounts can further reduce noise. Overall, HDDs work well for bulk game storage, though users who prefer virtually silent PCs may still favor SSDs.

Capacity Needs

The average game install size has been steadily increasing over the years. Some of the largest recent PC game install sizes range between 87-120GB (Source 1). With games continuing to become more complex with higher resolution textures and assets, install sizes will likely continue growing. This means gamers looking to have a library of 5+ games installed concurrently should plan for at least 500GB-1TB of capacity. For gamers with larger libraries or playing the latest AAA titles, 2TB+ may be recommended.

For gamers focused purely on capacity per dollar, HDDs currently offer significantly higher storage density per dollar compared to SSDs. For example, a 2TB HDD costs around $50 while a 2TB SSD is around $150+ currently (Source 2). Therefore, gamers looking strictly for maximum storage capacity on a budget will likely want to choose an HDD.

However, for gamers looking for both reasonable capacity and performance, a hybrid approach is recommended. The ideal setup would be a 1-2TB SSD for installing active games, paired with a high capacity HDD for archival storage of uninstalled games. This balances performance and budget while still allowing for ample storage capacity.

Budget Considerations

When choosing between an HDD and SSD for game storage, one of the biggest factors is cost. HDDs are significantly cheaper in terms of dollars per gigabyte (GB) of storage. According to Disk Prices, a 1 TB HDD costs around $0.03 per GB while a 1 TB SSD is around $0.10 per GB – over 3 times more expensive. For large game libraries, this difference adds up quickly.

If budget is a major concern, an HDD is the clear choice for maximizing storage capacity per dollar spent. A 4 TB HDD can be purchased for under $100, which would provide storage for dozens of games. Comparable SSD capacity would cost $300 or more. For gaming builds under about $800, an HDD is recommended to allocate more of the budget towards the GPU, CPU, and RAM which impact gaming performance more directly.

However, as budget allows, adding even a small SSD as a boot drive offers big benefits for loading the operating system and key applications faster. A 500 GB SSD can be purchased for under $50 to complement a large HDD. For mid-range budgets, a hybrid HDD/SSD setup is recommended. Top-tier budgets over $2,000 could opt for an all SSD setup for luxury performance.

Performance Optimization

There are several ways to optimize the performance of a HDD. Defragmenting the drive can help consolidate fragmented files and optimize file storage, improving access times. According to Super User, defragmenting can provide a “significant performance boost” for HDDs.

Enabling write caching on the drive is another optimization that can improve write speeds by up to 50%, as explained on TechTarget. However, there is a risk of data loss in case of power failure. Using a UPS can mitigate this risk.

Adjusting the HDD’s queue depth can also help, as a higher queue depth allows the drive to handle more I/O requests simultaneously. However, setting it too high can have the opposite effect if the system can’t keep up. Fine-tuning this setting based on your specific hardware can optimize HDD throughput.

Lastly, optimizing your system’s virtual memory, disabling unnecessary services, and a clean OS install can minimize resource contention and background I/O that could slow game load times.


In summary, while HDDs have the benefits of lower cost and higher capacity compared to SSDs, their slower speeds and higher latency can negatively impact game load times and performance for some games. HDDs may be a good budget option for storing your gaming library, but keeping your most played and demanding games on an SSD will provide a better overall experience.

For most gamers, the ideal setup is likely a smaller SSD paired with a larger HDD. The SSD can be used for the operating system, active games, and apps, while the HDD stores data and less frequently played games. This balances performance and capacity needs.

In the end, HDDs can still work for gaming storage depending on your budget, capacity requirements, and target performance level. Just be mindful of which games you install on the HDD versus SSD. As long as you manage your drives wisely and set realistic performance expectations, an HDD can deliver adequate performance for more casual gaming.