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When it comes to updating a budget build, drive selection can have a major impact. Understanding the difference between an HDD and an SSD helps in understanding why. Different use cases also call for different types of disk, and this guide will cover three main options.

Types of Drives

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

The traditional HDD has been around for a long time. It stores data on a magnetic platter and requires a lot of mechanical movements to function. This causes the disks to be a lot slower than other storage methods. The problem is made far worse when working with small file sizes. In addition, if the disk is moved too much or receives an impact while running, it can break.

A Western Digital HDD.

A Western Digital HDD. Copyright by Western Digital.

On the other hand, HDDs are a fraction of the price. This makes them ideal for the storage of data that is not accessed very often. Family pictures, movies, music and important paperwork all works off an HDD without issue. It is important to save a backup with these disks though due to their fragile nature. One tipped computer or dropped laptop could spell the end of valuable data.

Speeds: Upwards of 200MB/s for top end drives. Normal drives sit at about 120MB/s.
Sizes: Drives up to 6TB in size can be found for reasonable prices. Larger disks are available, but a much higher price per GB.
Physical Size: HDDs come in both the standard 3.5 inch desktop drive size as well as the 2.5 inch “laptop” size.
Port: Plugs into the SATA port on a motherboard.
Price: Roughly $0.03/GB.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

A HyperX SSD

A HyperX SSD. Copyright HyperX.

SSDs have become the new norm for data storage. By removing the moving components inside, speeds for large files are roughly triple what you get from an HDD. Plus the delay between each read and write is far less because it doesn’t have to move to different file locations. Since most files are small, that means most read/write operations can be performed even quicker than the 3x speeds expected from SDDs.

Removing the mechanical movement component makes the drives far more impact resistant. This has lead to SSDs being the top pick for mobile systems such as laptops. Not dropping a laptop, to begin with, is a good place to start, but if it does happen at least the data remains safe.

Speeds: 500-600MB/s on average.
Sizes: Most drive sizes seen are between 120-500GB.
Physical Size: 2.5 inch SSDs are very common, but 3.5 inch is rare. There are however plenty of conversion kits to fit a 2.5 inch drive into a 3.5 inch slot.
Port: Plugs into the SATA port on a motherboard.
Price: Roughly $0.40/GB

M.2 Drive (SSD)

The M.2 drive is the new big guy on the block. It keeps the same technology of an SSD, but builds on top of it to make improvements. With a slimmer and more compact size, they have become popular inside netbooks as well as small laptops. There are both SATA interface versions, as well as the newer NVMe interface options for an M.2 drive, which is where the difference lies.

A HyperX M.2

A HyperX M.2. Copyright HyperX.

SATA interface M.2 drives pack the same punch as a regular SSD, but in a smaller package. Other than being able to fit the small confines of portable devices, there are no other advantages to these. Unless replacing a broken M.2 SATA drive, there’s no real reason to get one.

NVMe interface M.2 drives really crank up the read/write speeds. M.2 motherboard slots have only been around a year or so, but luckily, PCIe cards are available for upgrading older systems. These bad boys generally quadruple SATA SSD speeds, making them the fastest option to put into a system.

Speeds: 500-600MB/s on average for SATA. 2GB/s on average for NVMe, and upwards of 3.2BG/s.
Sizes: Most drive sizes seen are between 120-500GB.
Physical Size: The M.2 drive is about the size of a stick of memory.
Port: M.2 ports come in several form factors. When purchasing an M.2 drive it is extremely important to make sure that the form factor purchased matches with the drive.
Price: Roughly $0.50/GB

What is Needed

With three major options, the decision of what to purchase comes down to usage. If the system being upgraded or built only has one slot, it is best to go with an SSD option. The impact of an SSD over an HDD for any installed software cannot be overlooked. OS load times, programs, and games all heavily rely on drive speeds.

Fortunately, most systems have more than one slot for a drive, so picking multiple drives is doable. Except for in cases such as media centers, one 4TB or larger HDD is enough. Aside from that, it is always good to have at least one SSD in order to put the OS and software on. Then it’s a matter of adding additional HDDs or SSDs as needed.

The need for an M.2 drive comes into play in very few situations. Going from an HDD to an SSD can reduce boot times from a minute down to less than ten seconds, which is quite notable. An M.2 might only shave a few seconds off that timing, making the impact far less. When working with extremely large files, like uncompressed 4K video, will the speed differences be noticed.

What About Hybrids?

Okay, okay–there is one more option. A hybrid drive is a single drive with two partitions: one is an HDD, and the other is an SSD. While this may seem like a great idea, they often fall short of expectations. The SSD portion is generally only large enough to store the OS on, and potentially other software. The problem with this design is that there are plenty of programs that benefit greatly from an SSD, and hybrid drives limit its full use. I will always recommend an SSD of larger size over hybrid disks.

What I Have Under the Hood

Old HDDs are often available for free. Broken and old systems can have drives scavenged from them before e-waste. They can often be found in systems that people are throwing out because some other component broke. Keeping an eye out can land you a free drive, and that is what I did for years. Honestly, for HDDs, this is the best method for getting drives into a system since so many good drives go to waste every year.

A 240GB HyperX FURY SSD

A HyperX FURY SSD. Copyright HyperX.

When it came time to upgrade my budget build to get an SSD, I went with a 240GB HyperX FURY. As I mentioned in my memory guide, Kingston/HyperX is the brand that I trust for reliability, so it was a natural choice for me. Low prices and 500MB/s read and write speeds made the drive an easy choice.

Results

The decision to stop being cheap by installing the HyperX SHFS37A/240G was probably the best computer related decision I have ever made. After years of skimping on drives to bring down the price of budget builds, I found out how much of a difference this drive really made. Everything about my system performed faster, and by a good amount. I would recommend this product to anyone looking to make the jump over to an SSD, or add an additional one to their system.


Budget Build Upgrade is a series of articles on learning the resources and tools to create a modern PC on a budget. To see the first article in this series, click here.

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