Which hard drive deserves your data? | SSD versus SATA

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Are you in the market for a new hard drive? Do you know what kind of hard drive you want? Are you looking for a 3.5 or 2.5 inch drive? How many RPMs are you looking to get out of your new drive? There are so many different types of hard drives it's hard to know where to start when we decide we need a new one. Chances are if you're not a techie or storage professional you will have a hard time understanding what kind of hard drive you need and where to start looking.

Why do I need a new hard drive?

This is where you need to start before you even think about buying another hard drive. Have you run out of space on your current drive? Is it just too slow for what you're doing? Whatever the situation, understanding why you want or need a new drive will help you know what you want and where to look.

For most of us, the stock drive that came in our desktop or laptop has simply run out of space and we can't add any more songs, Word docs, pictures or videos. This is one valid reason to buy a new hard drive for sure. Perhaps you were at your friend's house and he or she showed you their new laptop and how fast everything loaded compared to their old laptop, and that made you jealous. If your documents and programs are taking forever to load, that is a very good reason to start shopping for a new hard drive.

There are times when the unfortunate happens where you don't back up anything on our computer and one day our hard drive dies. You go to turn on your laptop and you got a "blue screen of death" or got the dreaded hard drive error "unmountable boot volume". If you've still got the installation disk for your OS, then you might have a chance at saving it, but most likely you are toast! Is it painful? Yes, but you can start fresh with a new hard drive and put the past behind you. Now that we have a few scenarios that would bring you to shopping for a new hard drive, let's cover some of the choices you have out there on today's market.

Choices, choices, choices

How do you tell a laptop hard drive apart from a desktop hard drive? Simply put, desktop drives are bigger in physical size at 3.5 inches; a laptop drive is smaller at 2.5 inches. Once you have figured out why you are replacing it you can now start shopping. There are many hard drive manufacturers, so you need to research the reviews on different drives and pick the manufacturer with the highest rated user reviews (that's usually the safest bet). To make this as easy as possible let's just compare the two most common drives for laptops and desktop PCs. Your two main choices will be between a Serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) drive and a Solid-sate drive (SSD).

Reasons to get an SSD

SATA drives come in varying speeds and capacities and SSD drives come in varying capacities. Why are SSDs so much quicker than conventional SATA drives? There are no moving parts because there is no spinning disk like you would find in a SATA drive that has to read and write data to an actual disk. You just click the icon and it opens up-boom! Boot up time is much quicker, cutting it down by 50 percent or more. SSDs are also lighter than the average SATA drive which makes it a great choice for a laptop drive. The only drawback to buying an SSD is cost, as these are pricey hard drives. You can look at spending around $1.00 per GB of storage, which can be about 7 to 8 times more expensive than a SATA drive. For a 250 GB SSD you are looking at around $250, however, if you care only about speed then cost is not an issue as these are speedy drives.

Various SSD hard drives

Why you should consider an SATA

Your other choice would be a SATA drive. Right off the bat, SATA drives are far more common and much less expensive. I don't like to use the word “cheap” because that gives off a negative connotation. They're just less expensive than solid-state drives. SATA drives are slower to boot up and slower in calling up data that you request. There are varying speeds of SATA drives with speeds up to 7400 RPMs, but the higher RPM the higher likelihood of the drive malfunctioning.

If you are looking for a drive that you can find in increments of terabytes then SATA is your drive of choice. SATA drives are heavier than SSDs and therefore less popular for the laptop owner, although most new laptops ship with a SATA drive in place due to the reduced cost. With SATA drives there is a higher chance that they'll go bad simply because there are several moving parts that can break. If you are looking to save money and get more bang for your buck, SATA drives should be your choice.

SATA hard drive

Other factors to think about

Now that you've had a crash course on the common types of hard drives and their features, you should feel confident going into your local computer shop or electronics store to make an informed decision. If you are shopping for your desktop, you should consider having the best of both worlds. Most desktops have multiple hard drive slots inside the case. If this is your situation then you can install a SATA drive and an SSD and get speed and capacity at the same time.

A lot of people will get a SATA drive to store their data, such as iTunes files, documents and pictures, while their operating system is stored on the SSD. With your OS stored on the SSD it will boot faster and respond snappier than it would on a SATA drive. Plus, most operating systems only need a small amount of space to run efficiently, so buying a SSD with only 20 to 40 GBs of space still saves you money. With a huge SATA drive to store your data, you'll be less likely to run out of storage in the near future.

Consider your needs

Take a good look at the reasons behind replacing your drive, the amount of space you need and how much you can spend. By doing that and applying what you've learned here will make your hard drive buying experience a piece of cake.

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Contributor

Greg Stuart

is a vExpert and systems administrator/network administrator by trade, who has worked a slew of IT jobs in his career. He's put his time in with certification training, obtaining A+, Network+, Security+, MCP, CCNA, VCP4, VCP5 and NCDA. He now works as an IT consultant and runs the blogs, vDestination and vLATAM.