When would I use a HDD?

Hard disk drives (HDDs) have been a staple of computer data storage for decades. While solid state drives (SSDs) have become more popular in recent years, HDDs still have their place in many computing use cases. So when is using a traditional HDD the right choice?

HDDs tend to be more affordable per gigabyte compared to SSDs. If you need lots of storage capacity on a budget, a HDD is likely the way to go. HDDs also offer more storage capacity options – up to 16TB per drive currently. SSD capacities top out at around 8TB for consumer models. If you need to store huge amounts of data, HDDs have the edge.

When to Choose an HDD

Here are some of the main scenarios where using a HDD could be advantageous over an SSD:

  • You need lots of storage capacity – HDDs are available in larger capacities than SSDs.
  • You are on a tight budget – HDDs offer more affordable storage per gigabyte.
  • You have archival or backup needs – HDDs are well-suited for infrequently accessed storage.
  • You need storage for a PC gaming rig – HDDs can provide tons of space for games at lower prices.
  • You need a drive for external storage – Portable and desktop external HDDs are inexpensive storage solutions.

For general computing needs in desktops and laptops, SSDs are now the preferred choice for their speed, durability, small size, and quiet operation. But in use cases that require massive amounts of storage, HDDs have the space and price advantage.

HDD Strengths

Hard disk drives have a number of strengths that make them well-suited for certain storage needs:

  • Price per gigabyte – HDDs are significantly cheaper than SSDs for the same storage capacity. As of 2023, HDD storage is around 3-4 cents per gigabyte while SSD storage is around 10-15 cents per gigabyte.
  • Capacity – Consumer HDDs can store up to 16TB per drive. The highest capacity consumer SSDs top out around 8TB.
  • Proven technology – HDDs have been around for decades and are a mature, reliable storage technology.
  • Speeds sufficient for some tasks – HDD speeds of 100-200MB/s are adequate for data that doesn’t need ultra-fast access, like media libraries, documents, etc.

For massive storage needs, HDDs offer capacities and cost savings that SSDs simply can’t match. While SSDs are faster, HDDs provide more than enough throughput for certain use cases.

Drawbacks of HDDs

HDDs do have some downsides that make SSDs preferable in some situations:

  • Slower access speeds – HDDs read/write data much more slowly than SSDs due to physical moving parts.
  • Larger size and noise – The mechanical nature of HDDs makes them larger and noisier than SSDs.
  • More susceptible to damage – Dropping a HDD can damage internal components and lose data.
  • Shorter lifespan – The mechanical parts in HDDs wear out over time, generally shorter than the lifespan of an SSD.

For general computing needs today, SSDs provide better performance, run silently with no moving parts, take up less space, and are more durable. But for secondary storage needs, HDDs can deliver the right mix of capacity and affordability.

Typical HDD Use Cases

Here are some of the most common situations where using a HDD would be advantageous or cost-effective:

External storage

External HDDs provide inexpensive storage for backing up data, expanding capacity, or easily transferring large amounts of data. Both desktop external drives and portable external HDDs offer tons of storage at low prices.

Media libraries

A home media server with movies, music, photos, etc. doesn’t require ultra-fast storage. A HDD has more than enough throughput for streaming media files while offering huge amounts of space at low cost.

PC gaming rigs

Gaming PCs need tons of storage for modern games. A 1TB or larger HDD combined with a 512GB SSD for the operating system provides abundant space for games at a reasonable price.

Network attached storage (NAS)

Networked home and business storage devices often use multiple HDDs in order to provide shared access to huge amounts of storage over a network. HDDs in NAS setups store everything from files to backups to media.

Archival storage

If you need long-term storage of infrequently accessed data, HDDs are a cost-effective solution. Photos, older business records, compliance data, and other archival data can be kept on high capacity HDDs.


Hard disk drives may no longer be the primary form of storage in computers, but they still serve an important role. When high capacity and low cost are the priorities, HDDs deliver in ways that SSDs can’t. For home users, gamers, small businesses, and budget-minded organizations, HDDs can provide the ideal balance of storage space and affordability.

SSDs are now the default choice for primary storage. But the strengths of HDDs mean they will continue to thrive as excellent secondary storage options. When your use case calls for massive amounts of space rather than ultra-fast access, there’s still a clear place for the trusty hard disk drive.

Storage Type Price per GB Max Capacity Speed
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) 3-4 cents 16TB 100-200MB/s
Solid State Drive (SSD) 10-15 cents 8TB 500-3500MB/s