Will a solid state drive improve performance?

Solid state drives, also known as SSDs, have become a popular storage solution in recent years. As opposed to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), SSDs have no moving parts and instead rely on flash memory chips to store data. This difference in underlying technology leads to some noticeable advantages that make many wonder – will a solid state drive improve performance compared to a hard disk drive? Yes, solid state drives generally offer significant improvements in performance compared to hard disk drives. SSDs provide faster load/boot times, quicker file transfers, and improved responsiveness for many computing tasks. However, SSDs also have some downsides like higher cost per gigabyte and limited lifespan. This article will examine the performance differences between SSDs and HDDs in depth to help you decide if an SSD upgrade is worthwhile.

SSD vs. HDD Technology

To understand the performance gap between solid state drives and hard disk drives, it helps to first look at how each storage device works under the hood:

Hard Disk Drives

Hard disk drives have spinning disks called platters that are coated with magnetic material for data storage. Read/write heads float just above these platters on an actuator arm, allowing data to be magnetically written to and read from the platters as they spin. This mechanical design means HDDs have moving parts that can limit performance. Spinning up the disks from an idle state can take time, and physical movements of the head assembly slow down read/write speeds. HDDs are considered old but proven technology that benefits from decades of optimization and low cost per gigabyte.

Solid State Drives

SSDs have no moving parts – they consist entirely of integrated circuits and flash memory chips. Data is stored in memory cells made up of transistors rather than magnetic bits. This solid state design allows for much faster data access because there is no wait time for spinning disks or moving head assemblies. Reads and writes happen instantly whenever data is needed. The downsides are that solid state storage is still more expensive per gigabyte than HDDs, and cells eventually wear out after a limited number of rewrite cycles. Manufacturing optimizations continue to improve cost and longevity.

With this basic technological background, let’s now compare the real-world performance differences you can expect to see between HDDs and SSDs.

Boot and Load Times

One of the most noticeable performance improvements with solid state drives is much faster boot and load times. Here are some examples of typical differences you can expect to see:

OS Boot Time – An HDD may take 30-90 seconds to fully load Windows or other operating systems from power off. An SSD can cut this time down to 10-25 seconds for most users, allowing near instant-on usability.

Game Load Times – Loading levels or maps in games often takes 1-2 minutes from an HDD. With an SSD, load times can be reduced to 20-30 seconds in many titles.

App Launch Time – Frequently used applications like web browsers may launch in 5-10 seconds on an HDD. An SSD can cut launch times down to just 1-2 seconds in many cases.

The reduced boot and load times with SSDs make a noticeable difference in daily use. Whether it’s getting into your desktop faster after hitting the power button, jumping into a game level without long waits, or launching apps instantly, solid state drives feel much snappier.

File Copy and Transfer Speeds

In addition to faster boot/load times, solid state drives provide significantly improved file copy and transfer speeds in many scenarios. Some examples:

Single File Copy – A multi-gigabyte file takes roughly 1-2 minutes to copy from one folder to another on a hard drive. The same file may copy in 5-20 seconds on even a modest SATA SSD.

Folder Transfer – Copying a folder containing gigs of mixed file types to another location on the same HDD can take 2-4 minutes. On an SSD the transfer could finish in under a minute.

Game Install – Installing a modern 50GB game to an HDD consumes 30 minutes or more. On an SSD the install would take 5-10 minutes instead.

Software Install – Medium sized software installs that take 2-3 minutes on an HDD may finish in under a minute on an SSD.

Faster copy, transfer, and install speeds add up to saved time when managing files and applications. The speed gap is most noticeable when moving multi-gigabyte media files or games around, doing mass file operations, or installing major programs.

Responsiveness and Snappiness

Even during routine use outside of boots/loads, SSDs provide a snappier feeling Windows or macOS experience compared to HDDs. This improved responsiveness comes from faster access times for all file operations under the hood. Some noticeable examples:

Opening Files – Double clicking a Word/Excel document or JPEG image file to open it feels near instant on an SSD. On an HDD there is a slight but perceptible delay as the file is located and loaded.

Searching Files – Searching your file system to find a document feels lightning quick with an SSD. Searches seem to lag on a hard drive.

Browsing Files – Quickly clicking through folders in Windows Explorer or Finder feels smooth and responsive with an SSD. On an HDD there is occasional stuttering.

Apps and Multitasking – In an HDD system,busy background activity from apps and software can make the system feel periodically sluggish. SSDs keep things flowing smoothly.

Video Editing – Scrubbing back and forth through video timelines happens without lag or stuttering on an SSD. The same activity feels slightly jerky at times on an HDD as frames have to load.

These differences in perceived snappiness and responsiveness are subtle, but they add up to a better overall user experience. HDD systems often feel fast enough thanks to caching strategies, but SSDs deliver true instant responsiveness for most activities.

Reliability and Failure Rates

Do solid state drives have any reliability or durability downsides compared to traditional hard drives with moving parts?

SSD Lifespan

SSDs have a finite lifespan related to the number of times flash memory cells can be rewritten before wearing out. However, modern SSDs last for hundreds of terabytes written before approaching end of life. The average user would take many years to wear out an SSD through normal activity.

SSD Failure Rates

Research studies have found SSDs may have an annual failure rate around 1.5-2.5%, based primarily on returned drive statistics. HDDs are in the same general 1-2% yearly failure rate range. So SSDs are comparable to HDDs for reliability in most use cases.

Shock and Vibration

With no moving parts, SSDs have an inherent shock and vibration durability advantage over HDDs. A dropped SSD has a very high chance of remaining fully functional, compared to more potential damage risk for a dropped HDD.

Overall, for normal desktop and laptop use SSDs provide at least equivalent lifespan and failure rates compared to HDDs. Their physical durability is also improved without fragile moving parts. In specialized environments like servers where sustained heavy writes happen or extreme shock/vibration resistance is needed, HDDs may retain advantages however.

Cost Per Gigabyte

One remaining downside of solid state drives is they come at a higher cost per gigabyte compared to hard drives. Here are some typical current SSD versus HDD costs for perspective:

240GB SSD – $25 to $50, roughly 10-20 cents per gigabyte

1TB HDD – $35 to $60, roughly 3-6 cents per gigabyte

2TB HDD – $50 to $80, roughly 2-4 cents per gigabyte

While SSD prices continue to decrease, they remain 3-5X higher cost per gigabyte versus HDDs. Users needing massive multi-terabyte storage may still prefer HDDs to keep costs low. However, small-mid capacity SSDs have reached very affordable pricing for most.

When to Choose an SSD?

With their performance advantages but higher remaining cost per gigabyte, in what instances should you choose a solid state drive over a traditional hard disk?

Desktop/Gaming PC – An SSD is highly recommended as the primary boot drive for any desktop PC, especially gaming rigs. Use a small 250-500GB SATA SSD for the OS and applications to benefit from faster boots/loads. Add a larger HDD for bulk storage.

Laptop/Ultrabook – For laptops, an SSD or SSD+HDD combo is strongly advised. The SSD provides much lower power draw and heat output compared to a spinning HDD, improving battery life. Most new slim ultrabooks also only have space for SSD storage.

Servers – In servers and data centers, HDDs still serve a role for mass storage at the lowest cost and highest capacities. But SSDs are increasingly used for caching, database storage, and hosting IO-intensive applications.

External Storage – Portable external SSDs are smaller, lighter and more durable than portable HDDs. The speed is handy for transferring files or editing multimedia externally. Cost per gigabyte remains relatively high however.

In summary, choose an SSD as your primary internal drive anytime your computer needs to feel snappy and responsive, or you work with large files regularly. HDDs are still preferred for bulk media libraries and backups where capacity is most important.

M.2 SSDs vs. SATA SSDs

For most desktop and laptop uses today, your SSD options come down to two main interface categories:

M.2 SSD – A newer form factor SSD that connects directly to the motherboard through a slot. M.2 SSDs come in SATA or NVMe protocol versions, with NVMe drives offering the fastest theoretical speeds.

2.5″ SATA SSD – The traditional SSD form factor that connects via a SATA cable just like a 2.5″ hard drive. Easy to install but lower maximum speeds than M.2 NVMe drives.

Here’s how M.2 and 2.5″ SATA SSDs compare regarding performance, compatibility, and pricing:

Attribute M.2 SSD 2.5″ SATA SSD
Interface PCIe M.2 Slot SATA III
Max Speed Up to 7,000 MB/s (NVMe) Up to 550 MB/s
Motherboard Compatibility Require M.2 slot Compatible with any SATA port
Form Factor Compact, ports direct to motherboard Larger, requires cabling
Cost Per GB $0.15 – $0.25 $0.10 – $0.15

Based on the differences, 2.5″ SATA SSDs currently provide the best balance of affordability and broad compatibility with most desktops and laptops. M.2 NVMe drives are recommended if you need maximum speed and have a compatible M.2 slot. For general use however, a SATA SSD still provides huge improvements over a hard drive.


Switching from a hard disk drive to a solid state drive remains one of the best ways to make a computer feel faster and more responsive across a wide variety of use cases. The technology advantages of SSDs translate into huge gains for boot times, game/app load times, file transfers, and general “snapiness” during normal operation. While SSD cost per gigabyte remains higher than HDDs, the pricing gap has narrowed significantly in recent years making SSD storage affordable for most users. For any frequently used computing device, upgrading to an SSD provides one of the most impactful user experience improvements available today.