Should I get SSD or HDD for external storage?

With the decreasing costs of solid state drives (SSDs) and their blazing fast speeds, many wonder if it’s time to retire the traditional hard disk drive (HDD) for external storage needs. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons of SSDs and HDDs for external storage to help you decide which is best for your needs.

SSD vs HDD: Speed

One of the biggest considerations when choosing external storage is speed. There is no contest here – SSDs are significantly faster than HDDs:

  • SSD sequential read speeds can reach up to 3,500 MB/s, while HDDs top out at around 200 MB/s.
  • SSD random read speeds can reach up to 680,000 IOPS. HDDs manage only a few hundred IOPS.

Why does this matter? Faster read/write speeds result in much shorter load and transfer times. For example, copying a 50GB game to an external SSD would take approximately 2 minutes versus 12 minutes for an HDD.

Speed advantages extend beyond just load and transfer times. Since SSDs don’t have moving parts, they have lower access times. This speeds up everything from opening files to launching apps. HDDs use physical heads to read/write data on platters which adds latency.

The blazing fast speeds of SSDs are very noticeable in real world usage. Activities like transferring large files, running programs off the external drive, or loading games see significant improvements versus HDDs. For external storage you’ll be accessing frequently, SSDs are vastly superior.

SSD vs HDD: Durability

SSDs have fewer moving parts than mechanical HDDs, giving them improved shock resistance. HDDs rely on fragile moving magnetic platters and heads that can fail after being dropped or knocked during transportation.

That said, modern SSDs and HDDs both feature robust designs that can handle reasonable shocks and vibration. For typical portable external drive usage, durability shouldn’t be a major concern. However, SSDs are slightly more durable overall, especially for devices being transported regularly.

SSD vs HDD: Capacity

HDDs continue to offer much higher maximum capacities than SSDs:

  • HDDs – Up to 18TB for 3.5-inch or up to 2TB for 2.5-inch form factors
  • SSDs – Up to 8TB for M.2 or up to 4TB for 2.5-inch

If you need an external drive above 2TB, HDDs remain the only option. While SSD capacities continue to increase, HDDs are still king for mass storage.

SSD vs HDD: Price Per GB

Due to the higher platters densities for HDDs, hard drives offer a much lower price per gigabyte compared to SSDs. For example:

  • 2TB HDD – Around $50 or $0.025 per GB
  • 2TB SSD – Around $200 or $0.10 per GB

For bulk storage needs, HDDs are about 75% cheaper per gigabyte than SATA SSDs and 95% cheaper than portable external SSDs. If you need high capacities of 2TB or more, HDDs remain substantially more cost effective.

SSD vs HDD: Reliability

This used to be an area dominated by hard drives, but SSD reliability has improved dramatically in recent years while HDD reliability has stayed largely the same. Let’s look at lifespan and failure rate differences.


All storage devices have a limited lifespan measured in the number of bytes written. HDDs tend to last between 3-5 years, while modern SSDs typically last 5-10 years thanks to advanced wear-leveling algorithms.

Both can certainly last longer than their rated lifespans depending on usage. Lightly used drives may last 10+ years while heavily used drives can fail sooner. Still, SSDs edge out HDDs for expected working life under typical scenarios.

Annual Failure Rate

Looking at actual field failure rate statistics reported by leading cloud providers gives us a good comparison:

Annual failure rate Around 2% Around 0.2%

So SSDs have around a 10X lower annual failure rate compared to HDDs. Two key factors reduce failure rates for SSDs vs HDDs:

  • No moving parts – less physical wear over time.
  • Advanced integrity and error checking features.

As with lifespan, real-world results may vary depending on usage patterns and environmental factors. But overall SSDs are clearly more reliable over time.

Use cases where SSDs excel

SSDs provide huge speed advantages and slightly better reliability over HDDs. But where do these pros actually make a difference? Here are some common use cases where SSDs shine.

External storage for laptops

The combination of compact size, improved durability, and blazing speeds make SSDs fantastic for external laptop storage. Typical laptop workloads involve transferring lots of smaller files like office documents, excel sheets, photos, etc. Small file performance is where SSDs excel vs HDDs.

External gaming drives

Gaming involves loading large files like levels, textures, and videos. The massive improvements to load and transfer times make SSDs far superior for external gaming storage.

Frequent large file transfers

If you frequently move large files between drives, the speed advantages of SSDs pays dividends. Professionals working with video and image production can see huge time savings.

Harsh mobile conditions

Bumps and shocks from dropping bags or accidents can damage HDDs. If your external storage faces uncontrolled conditions while traveling, SSDs are more rugged.

Use cases favoring HDDs

While SSDs have many advantages, HDDs earn their keep with extremely high capacities at low prices. Here are some scenarios where HDDs shine.

External storage for desktop PCs

Desktop PCs often stay in one place so ruggedness is less important. And with limited space for multiple drives, a single high capacity HDD makes sense for additional storage.

Network attached storage

Home or small office NAS devices need as much storage as possible at lowest costs. Multi-bay HDD setups are standard for meeting high storage demands affordably.

Archival storage

If you just need cheap raw capacity for storing old files that are infrequently accessed, HDDs get the job done cost efficiently.

Backup storage

Backing up your computer’s data requires large, affordable capacity. Large external HDDs are ideal for storing system images and file backups.

SSD vs HDD: Operational factors

Beyond raw technical specs, there are some additional factors that can affect real world performance and user experience.


With no moving parts generating sound, SSDs run completely silent. HDDs feature spinning platters and moving heads that create audible noise. If you want whisper quiet operation, SSDs are your only choice.


HDDs with spinning disks generate more operating heat and need larger cases with more ventilation for cooling. SSDs run cooler and can get by with less ventilation. Smaller, fanless external SSD enclosures are feasible.

Power consumption

SSDs consume 1-2 Watts when active, while HDDs use up to 6-8 Watts. This makes SSDs more efficient, especially on laptops where battery life matters. Multiply by many drives, and data centers also see substantial power savings with SSD storage.


As HDDs fill up, data gets fragmented across different locations on the disk platter. This slows down access times as the head has to move around physically. SSDs can suffer from logical fragmentation of data. However manual defragmentation isn’t required for performance.

SSD vs HDD: Which is better for external storage?

So is it worth getting an SSD over an HDD for external storage? Here is a quick recap of the key differences:

Speed Much faster sequential and random speeds Slow compared to SSD
Durability No moving parts, resistant to shock and vibration More fragile with moving heads
Capacity Up to 4TB for external SSDs Up to 18TB for external HDDs
Price per GB Around $0.10 per GB Around $0.025 per GB
Reliability Typically 10X lower annual failure rate than HDD 2% average annual failure rate

For most users, SSDs provide substantial speed, durability, and reliability advantages over HDDs. The tradeoffs are higher costs for less storage capacity. If your external storage needs are under 2TB, going all SSD offers excellent performance and quality benefits.

When evaluating your choice, consider how you plan to use the external drive. Frequent mobile use and active file transfers favor SSDs. But if you just need max capacity for backups or archives, HDDs provide huge space at low prices.

Tips for choosing the right external SSD or HDD

Follow these guidelines to select the optimal external drive for your usage:

Storage capacity

Consider how much space you’ll need currently and what might change in the future. Aim for at least 25% spare capacity beyond your initial needs.

Interface connection

The interface impacts transfer speeds. USB 3.2 Gen2x2 and Thunderbolt 4 offer the fastest performance. Make sure your computer supports the interface speed of your drive.

Form factor

2.5-inch or M.2 drives offer compact portability. 3.5-inch desktop drives require an AC power adapter but offer huge capacities.

Build quality

Metal enclosures dissipate heat better and can survive drops. Look for quality materials and construction.

Manufacturer reputation

Stick with established brands like Samsung, WD, SanDisk, Crucial, etc. for proven reliability.

Warranty length

Aim for at least a 3 to 5 year warranty. Longer coverage periods show increased confidence in durability.

Price per GB

Calculate the price per GB to find the best value. HDDs offer lower costs per GB, while SSDs come with performance benefits.

Use case needs

Match your performance and capacity requirements to HDD or SSD. Frequent transport and active usage favor SSDs. Archival backups can use HDDs.


Thanks to plummeting prices and superior speed and reliability, SSDs are now the clear choice for most external storage uses. HDDs still have a place for users needing ultra high capacities of 8TB and beyond.

For typical needs like external drives for laptops, desktops, gaming, or work, SSDs provide huge advantages. The combination of lightening quick transfers, rugged durability, silent operation, and compact sizes make SSD ideal external storage.

While HDDs are cheaper per gigabyte, the operational benefits of SSDs often make it worth paying more. Getting the right SSD for your usage delivers a much better overall user experience.

So for most buyers today, the choice is clear – say goodbye to clunky mechanical hard drives and hello to the performance of advanced external SSD storage!