What format should drive be?

As technology advances, we are presented with an increasing number of options when it comes to data storage formats. One key area where this choice comes into play is deciding what format to use for hard drives and solid state drives in computers and other devices. Should we use older, established formats like Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD)? Or should we embrace newer formats like NVMe and Optane? There are pros and cons to each option that must be weighed when making this decision.


For many years, HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) were the only option available for drive storage in computers and servers. HDDs store data on quickly rotating magnetic disks. They have moving mechanical parts and have been around since the 1950s. HDDs are inexpensive per gigabyte compared to SSDs, allowing more storage capacity for the price. However, they are slower, less reliable, and use more power than SSDs.

SSDs (Solid State Drives) store data in flash memory chips with no moving parts. First introduced in the 1970s, SSDs became popular for consumer devices in the late 2000s once prices dropped enough. SSDs are much faster than HDDs, more reliable with no moving parts, and use less power. However, SSDs used to be far more expensive than HDDs for the amount of storage. The price gap has closed significantly in recent years as SSD costs have plunged.

HDD vs SSD comparison

Feature HDD SSD
Speed Slower Faster
Reliability Potential for failure with moving parts More reliable with no moving parts
Power usage Higher Lower
Cost per GB Lower Higher


NVMe, which stands for Non-Volatile Memory express, is a newer interface protocol for accessing SSDs. NVMe communicates directly with the computer’s PCIe bus to provide faster speeds than SATA interfaces used for older SSDs. NVMe eliminates bottlenecks, allowing PCIe SSDs to reach incredible speeds not possible with SATA connections. For example, NVMe SSDs can achieve up to 3500 MB/s sequential read speeds, versus 550 MB/s for the best SATA SSDs.

Since its introduction in 2011, NVMe adoption has steadily grown. Prices have come down to be nearly on par with SATA SSDs. NVMe SSDs are now found in high-end consumer PCs and laptops, data centers, enterprise servers, and advanced workstations. The sheer performance of NVMe makes it the logical choice for applications where speed is critical and budgets allow. Gamers, content creators, engineering professionals, and financial analysts benefit greatly from NVMe’s advantages.

NVMe benefits

  • Faster speeds – upto 3500 MB/s vs 550 MB/s max for SATA SSDs
  • Lower latency for responsiveness
  • Better multicore CPU scalability
  • More bandwidth with PCIe connections

Optane Memory

Intel Optane memory takes yet another approach to storage. Optane modules access data at the byte level instead of block level like HDDs and SSDs. This allows read and write operations to happen faster. Intel Optane memory is positioned between system memory and storage. It acts as a cache to store frequently accessed data, boosting overall system performance.

Optane memory excels at random reads and writes. It significantly improves system responsiveness during light computing tasks where small pieces of data are retrieved randomly. Putting Optane modules next to HDDs helps overcome slow HDD performance for caching purposes. Using Optane with SSDs can provide a speed boost as well.

The major downsides of Optane are capacity limitations and cost. Optane modules typically max out at 128GB, too small for primary storage requirements. And while cheaper than DRAM, Optane remains much more expensive than NAND storage on a per-gigabyte basis.

Optane works best as a supplement to HDDs or SDDs rather than a replacement. The average consumer may not gain a big benefit from Optane’s added expense. But it can be worthwhile for systems dealing with random operations using big data sets.

Optane memory benefits

  • Faster random reads and writes
  • Lower latency than SSDs
  • Works as cache to boost HDD speeds
  • Helps with responsiveness during light computing

Storage size needs

When selecting a drive format, storage capacity requirements should be considered along with performance. HDDs are still the cheapest way to get massive amounts of storage. An 18TB HDD costs around $300 while an 18TB SSD is over $2500. HDDs reach much higher maximum capacities of up to 100TB per drive. The largest SSD currently available is 100TB but costs tens of thousands of dollars.

For applications that need vast storage like data warehousing, surveillance systems, and backup repositories, HDDs still make the most economic sense. Their slower speed is not critical for these use cases. And HDD reliability is decent enough for enterprises using redundancy and backups.

SSDs are practical when 1-64TB of storage is sufficient. NVMe works best up to around 16TB currently. Optane modules max out at 512GB. So your storage size requirements will be a key determining factor.

Drive format storage sizes

Format Storage sizes
HDD Up to 100TB currently, largest capacities available
SSD Up to 100TB currently, max 64TB practical for most
NVMe SSD Up to 16TB currently
Optane Up to 512GB currently

Reliability and durability

The reliability and lifespan of drives should be considered as well when comparing formats. HDDs have moving parts including rapidly spinning disks and moving heads to read and write data. These mechanical components inevitably lead to higher failure rates than solid state drives. HDDs can be expected to last 3-5 years on average.

SSDs have fewer points of failure with no moving parts and therefore better reliability. Average SSD lifespan is around 4-6 years for consumer models and up to 10 years for enterprise quality drives. However, SSDs do experience gradual performance degradation as more program/erase cycles occur on memory cells.

Optane memory lasts longer than NAND flash with endurance ratings of 60-100 drive writes per day over a 5 year period. This equals 10-17 petabytes of data that can be written in total. Optane lifespans align more closely with DRAM than NAND drives.

For archival and backup use cases where data will be stored for long time periods unchanged, HDDs offer acceptable durability given their low cost. But for active drives reading and writing data regularly, SSDs or Optane drives are a better choice for their reliability and extended lifespan.

Drive format reliability

Format Reliability & Durability
HDD Lower, 3-5 year lifespan
SSD Higher, 4-10 year lifespan
NVMe SSD Same as SSD
Optane Highest endurance, longer than SSD lifespan


The compatibility of different drive formats with hardware and software should be checked. HDDs and SATA-based SSDs use mature, universal SATA interfaces compatible across consumer and enterprise systems. NVMe SSDs require NVMe PCIe 3.0 or 4.0 slots to achieve full performance. While widespread on newer systems, some older motherboards and computers may lack NVMe compatibility.

Optane memory requires Intel chipsets and processors that support Intel Optane technology. This limits Optane use to newer Intel-based computers. Ensure your system meets Optane requirements before purchasing modules. For broad compatibility with all types of PCs, HDDs and SATA SSDs are the best choice currently.

Drive format compatibility

Format Compatibility
HDD Universal
SATA SSD Universal
NVMe SSD Requires NVMe slot, not compatible with some older systems
Optane Only works with newer Intel chipset systems

Use Cases and Recommendations

Given all the factors discussed, we can make some general recommendations on which drive format makes the most sense for different use cases:

  • Gaming rigs and high-end consumer PCs – NVMe SSDs provide incredible speeds to improve loading times and responsiveness during demanding gaming and content creation.
  • Mainstream home and office PCs – SATA SSDs deliver a good blend of affordability, capacity, and performance for typical consumer usage.
  • Budget PCs – HDDs allow squeezing more storage capacity from limited budgets despite slower speeds.
  • Data centers and servers – Enterprise-class NVMe SSDs are ideal for servers needing speed with HDDs used for backup storage and archives.
  • Workstations – NVMe SSDs handle demanding workstation applications the best, while SATA SSDs work for more moderate workstation needs.
  • Notebooks and ultrabooks – NVMe or SATA SSDs provide the best experience thanks to fast speeds, reliability, and shock resistance.

For most average users, SATA SSDs hit the sweet spot combining affordability, performance, and universal compatibility. Gamers, content creators, IT professionals, and other power users gain meaningful benefits from NVMe’s extra speed. HDDs serve best as a low-cost storage option, for cold data archives, and network attached storage. Optane suits systems needing caching to overcome HDD latency during random operations. Consider your key requirements and use case before deciding on a drive format.


The choice between HDD, SSD, NVMe, and Optane drive formats involves weighing factors like speed, cost, capacity, compatibility, and reliability. Use cases with performance-sensitive applications favor faster NVMe SSDs and Optane memory despite their higher costs. SATA SSDs deliver a balance of speed, affordability, and broad compatibility for many consumer and business needs. HDDs remain relevant where massive amounts of cheap storage are needed and speed is not critical. Considering your budget, performance demands, and capacity requirements will steer you toward the best drive format.