SSDs didn’t exist when we were kids; in fact, compact flash didn’t exist at all. Then they were prohibitively expensive in college, and for years, the strategy was to have one, two punch, a limited volume SSD for speed, and a bulky HDD for the large files. However, devices with no hard drive are becoming more and more popular these days. Of course, hard drives are still not that expensive, but are they still worthwhile with their number of disadvantages?

We all know that every new PC’s operating system can load from a solid-state drive at the very least for usability and boot times, even if it’s a small one like 32 gigs if you’re using Windows 10. You may be able to get away with 16, but that leaves no space on your C drive for file transfers, let alone Windows updates. But, when it comes to configuration, can you do more than one thing at a time? Will a single hard drive support various displays for media streaming, file transfers, and light gaming? Or would it devolve into chaotic mass media shambles? We were able to run several applications off the hard drive while moving a big video file in our tests, but just because you can does not mean you should. So much multitasking will result in thrashing, which is where data is quickly passed back and forth between the drive and the memory, allowing the disc to wear out faster. Remember that any read or write requires a physical seek, and if a lot is going on, particularly over several files spread over the disc, the head will have to seek a lot more than usual to keep up.

For years, SATA has had native command queuing, which helps, though not wholly, mitigate this issue. Executing the instruction examines the relocation of a vast number of files and optimizes the order they are read or written to. While this is an improvement, it is also a physical disadvantage that SSDs do not have. You’ll be restricted on how easily the read head can travel back and forth from all the files if you want to initiate several file transfers from a hard drive. Your computing power no longer has to wait for a physical head to locate everything, so it just collects everything and pushes it along like a strange hose. Some people have the tactic of putting the games they play less often on their extra capacity hard drive, so they’re okay with sipping from their water bottle while they sit through the loading screens whenever they play those games. And that’s well because it turns out that after the loading is over, hard drives are quick enough to feed games like GTA 5 or even Cyberpunk 2077 with the data they need when zipping around the streets in 1080P.

However, with modern consoles supporting technology like direct storage, which allows the GPU to access a drive directly, preferably an NVMe drive, hard drives can not only trigger stuttering and hitching but also restrict the visual quality of your games, not to mention the risk of dropping through the unloaded floor. But SSDs aren’t just faster; they’re much quieter because they don’t have any moving components, and they use substantially less fuel. If you wish to add several hard drives to your build for extra capacity, expect an improvement in noise and an additional five to ten watts per disc, while SSDs will use as little as 30 milliwatts while idle. Although this isn’t significant if you want to use the lowest wattage power supply possible for your build, it’s certainly not insignificant, particularly when considering the additional heat produced within your PC. That’s one thing you’ll get way too familiar with.

Hard drives are also really delicate; a slight fall from even a small distance, and it’s gone. How many times have you tossed a USB flash drive to someone or taken one around in your backpack without a second thought? Even if the mechanical drive is fixed in place when properly shut off, a drop of a few feet may be enough to make it inoperable. All of your pictures, confidential files, and 4K videos are gone. Will your hard drive be able to keep up with your other components to view and output the footage quickly enough if you just bought a 4K or even 8K TV? Or would you stutter at the movie’s climax, destroying your home theatre experience? Ok, spoiler alert: until the film industry adopts 48 frames per second as the norm, you have little to be concerned about. The average bit rate of 4K Blu-ray is about 70 to 80 megabits per second, which is still far below the estimated sequential transmission rate of a mechanical drive of 100 to 120 megabytes per second. Even if 8K quadruples the bit rate number, you will still get away with it. Let’s face it; if you’re processing an 8K display in 2021, you’re probably using an SSD.

Solid-state drives are getting cheaper these days, but they’re still twice as pricey as mechanical drives, so we understand why someone would choose to stick with the older technology, mainly because it’s still a viable choice for storing files. However, if you have the extra money, it’s better to opt for an SSD. They’re quicker, lighter, quieter, use less fuel, can withstand more workload, and, thanks to new re-leveling methods, they still last longer, even though when you’re simply reading and writing regularly.

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