What are 2 differences between hard disk drives and solid state drives?

Hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) are two of the most common types of computer storage devices. Both serve the same basic function – to store and retrieve digital data – but they use different technologies that have distinct advantages and disadvantages.

How HDDs and SSDs Store Data

The first major difference between HDDs and SSDs is in how they store data. HDDs utilize magnetic recording heads to read and write data to one or more rotating platters inside the drive enclosure. The platters are coated with a thin magnetic film. As the platters spin, the heads can change the magnetization of small areas on the platters to represent binary data. The heads float just above the platter surface on a thin cushion of air.

SSDs have no moving parts. Rather, they use integrated circuits to store data persistently. Most SSDs today use NAND flash memory chips to store data. The flash memory cells are arranged in arrays and can be electrically programmed to store charges representing 1s and 0s. Flash memory retains data even when powered off.

Speed and Performance

A second major difference between HDDs and SSDs is speed and performance. SSDs are generally much faster than HDDs when it comes to data access speeds and drive performance.

For HDDs, the mechanical nature of the drives creates physical limitations on performance. The platters have a maximum rotational speed, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). Common speeds for internal HDDs range from 5400 RPM to 15,000 RPM for high-performance server drives. The moving heads also have a certain seek time to locate and access specific data on the platters. Together, these factors limit the data transfer rates for HDDs to between 100-200 megabytes per second for typical consumer models.

SSDs have no such physical constraints. Data can be read or written directly and nearly instantly from any location in flash memory. This allows SSDs to achieve sequential read/write speeds of 500 MB/s or higher. SSDs also have much faster random access times due to not needing to move heads, with access times as low as 0.1 ms compared to 2-5 ms for HDDs.

Specification Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
Data access technology Magnetic recording heads and spinning platters Integrated circuit chips and flash memory cells
Typical sequential read/write speed 100-200 MB/s Over 500 MB/s
Typical random access time 2-5 ms 0.1 ms or less

The performance advantage of SSDs makes them better suited for applications where fast data access or high throughput is critical, such as gaming, content creation, databases, and enterprise environments.

Reliability and Durability

Reliability and durability represent a third area of difference between HDDs and SSDs. Both technologies are susceptible to failure over time, but in different ways.

HDDs are mechanically complex devices with many moving parts. Mechanical failures can occur, such as spindle motor failures, bearing wear, and head crashes or malfunctions. HDDs also have a mean time between failures (MTBF) rating that indicates average lifespan – often on the order of 1 to 1.5 million hours between failures for consumer models. Proper care and avoiding shocks and vibration can maximize HDD reliability.

SSDs have no moving parts, making mechanical failure impossible. Instead, SSDs can wear out as flash memory cells fail after a certain number of write/erase cycles. However, modern SSDs include spare capacity and wear leveling algorithms to maximize the lifespan and endurance of the drive. Typical SSDs last for hundreds of terabytes written. High-endurance models designed for heavy write workloads can last for petabytes of writes.

Both HDD and SSD failure can lead to data loss if proper backups are not kept. But on the whole, SSDs are less prone to sudden catastrophic failure compared to HDDs.

Specification Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
Components Platters, recording heads, moving parts Integrated circuits and flash memory only
Typical failure modes Mechanical – head crashes, motor failures Flash memory wear after extensive writes
Average lifespan 1 – 1.5 million hours MTBF Hundreds of TBs written
Shock and vibration tolerance Moderate – physical damage possible High – no moving parts

Storage Capacity

The fourth major area of difference is storage capacity. HDDs traditionally have had a larger maximum capacity than SSDs. That is changing with advances in flash memory tech, but HDDs still hold the capacity crown for now.

HDD capacities range from a few hundred gigabytes to tens of terabytes for enterprise models. The largest HDDs as of 2022 can store 20TB or more. This high capacity comes from the ability to simply add more platters to an HDD design. Increasing platter density through R&D also steadily grows HDD capacities over time.

SSDs started off with capacities of a few gigabytes but have grown enormously. As of 2022, the largest consumer SSDs store 8TB, with some specialized models reaching nearly 100TB. SSD capacities remain more limited due to the more complex process of density improvements through flash memory chip R&D and fabrication advances.

For general consumer use, HDDs and SSDs now overlap heavily in typical capacities from 500GB to 8TB. But if you need the absolute highest capacity from a single drive, HDDs are the only option. Enterprise storage systems combine many drives of each type to produce huge storage capacities.

Specification Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
Typical capacities (2022) 500GB – 20TB 500GB – 8TB
Maximum capacities (special models) 20TB+ Nearly 100TB
Capacity growth rate Faster from platter additions Slower from NAND flash density

Cost Per Gigabyte

The final major difference between HDDs and SSDs is the cost per gigabyte of storage. HDDs have historically had the advantage here, with a lower cost per gigabyte thanks to mechanical simplicity and economies of scale. But SSD costs have dropped substantially, narrowing the pricing gap.

Today, lower-capacity HDDs and SSDs have largely reached cost parity, around $0.10 – $0.20 per gigabyte at retail. However, the advantage still goes to HDDs at the high capacity end above 4TB. Top-end HDDs provide around $0.03 – $0.05 per gigabyte, while 8TB SSDs remain around $0.08 – $0.10 per gigabyte.

For budget-limited builds where maximum capacity is the priority, HDDs remain the better option. But SSD prices are viable now even for mainstream storage needs of 1TB or less. And SSDs continue to close the pricing gap with HDDs over time.

Specification Hard Disk Drive Solid State Drive
Typical cost per gigabyte (2022) $0.03 – $0.05 per GB at high capacities $0.08 – $0.10 per GB at high capacities
Price parity capacities 500GB to 4TB 500GB to 4TB
Historically lower $/GB Yes No


In summary, HDDs and SSDs take different approaches to storing digital data, leading to tradeoffs in performance, reliability, capacity, and cost:

  • HDDs use magnetic platters and heads, while SSDs use integrated circuits and flash memory with no moving parts.
  • SSDs are much faster for data access and throughput compared to HDDs.
  • SSDs are more resistant to physical shocks and catastrophic failure, while HDDs can suffer mechanical breakdowns.
  • HDDs offer larger maximum capacities currently, but SSD capacities are rapidly increasing.
  • HDDs have a lower cost per gigabyte for high capacities, but SSD pricing has dropped substantially.

For applications like personal computing, gaming, and general home/office use, SSDs provide a better overall user experience. But HDDs retain advantages for cost-optimized storage servers and archives. As SSD prices fall, they continue to displace HDDs in more and more applications due to speed advantages. But HDDs will co-exist with SSDs for years to come when large cheap storage is needed.