Ask LH: Which Type Of Drive Is Best For My Needs?

Ask LH: Which Type Of Drive Is Best For My Needs?

Dear Lifehacker, Solid-state drives (SSDs) are expensive and hard disk drives (HDDs) are slow. Now that you can buy a hybrid of the two, there are a lot of choices with varying costs. Which type of drive is my best bet for the money? Sincerely, Diskcombobulated

Dear Diskcombobulated,

The best drive for your money is going to depend on your needs. You essentially have four options, and which one suits you best will depend on how much you’re willing to spend, how much storage space you need, and how much you value speed. Let’s go over these options and see which drives suit you best.

Case #1: Cost Is Irrelevant, I Have Small Storage Needs, and Speed Is Paramount

Case #2: Cost Is Irrelevant, I Have Large Storage Needs, and Speed Is Important

easily survive on a tiny SSD

Laptop users will have a harder time, as most laptops only have a single hard drive bay. But if you don’t need your optical drive, there are ways to install an SSD in its place. Most laptop users will have to make this sacrifice to use both, but if the optical drive is important, you may want to consider just supplementing your SSD with an external drive. My laptop has a 256GB SSD, and that’s enough for pretty much everything I use on a regular basis, but I keep a 500GB USB 2.0 drive handy for editing video and handling other large files that don’t need constant storage on my primary disk. A combination of the two types of drives works well, whether they’re both internal or one drive stays outside of your machine.

Case #3: I’m on a Budget, I Have Large Storage Needs, and Speed Is Irrelevant

Case #4: I’m on a Budget, I Have Large Storage Needs, and Speed Is Important

Currently there are not many hybrid drives available, as the technology is pretty new. I believe Seagate was the first company to bring these drives to market, and so their offerings have been around for a little longer. You can pick up one of their 750GB hybrid drives for about $US170. That’s a $US70 premium for the 8GB SSD. OCZ also makes a 1TB hybrid drive that installs into a PCIe card slot, but these are not well-reviewed and cost quite a bit more. You definitely pay a higher premium for the SSD component with hybrids, but if you need that extra storage and only have room for a single drive they are the way to go.

Hopefully someday soon we’ll be in a place where SSDs are cheap, big, and the norm in most computers. Until then, you’ll have to compromise something but one of these compromises should work pretty well.


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  • No mention of RAID?

    I recently got a hand me down computer which was built with top end components when purchase several years ago.

    I got a significant improvement in load times when putting the two existing 7200RPM drives in a striped RAID array (RAID 0), without having to spend a cent on new hardware.

  • Last year I upgraded my 3-4yo computer (Q6600) to run with a 128GB SSD as my primary drive. Best money I’ve ever spent, it does everything in a snap and I honestly don’t see myself having to buy a new PC for quite some time save for a major hardware failure or OS change (Bear in mind, I don’t play games).

    The only downside is going to work and using their laptop is now extremely frustrating! It’s only a year old (i7, 8GB ram etc) but without the SSD it’s a dog compared to my home PC.

  • What about running SSD’s in RAID5? I hear the failure rates on those things are pretty high, I’d certainly want some protection. I’d love to get the SSD speed but I’d need a fair bit of storage to keep all the game installations on there. I don’t’ have a problem with offloading things like videos to HDD’s but there’d be sweet FA improvement in my system performance if I left my Steam folder on a HDD.

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