Is the battle for data storage supremacy over? Have hard disk drives finally left solid state drives eating their dust or have SSDs finally overtaken HDDs and left the old-timers behind?
For those who aren’t familiar with the differences between the two, here they are in a nutshell: hard disk drives or HDDs rely on a moving actuator and a read/write head to read or write data on spinning disks. Solid state drives or SSDs, on the other hand, have no moving parts. In most cases, they rely on NAND-based flash memory.
So, as of today, which technology holds the upper hand for data storage? Have a steaming cup of coffee while I fill you in on the latest.
Which drive can store more for less?
Aside from being more affordable, hard disk drives are still preferred because of their larger storage capacities. But the disparity between their capacities is gradually shrinking.
Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for their price tags. Today, you can find 1 TB hard disks below $100. As for 1 TB solid state drives, you’d be extremely lucky to find one that would cost below $1,000. As a matter of fact, $2,000 to $4,000 pricetags for 1 TB SSDs are quite common.
And by the looks of it, things aren’t going to change much in the near future if we talk about their differences in costs per GB. Some analysts even think they’re going to remain this way for 5-10 years.
This is where SSDs reign supreme. Because HDDs have to move an actuator arm, read/write head, and disk platters to access data, there’s a substantial delay compared to SSDs. While this may be unnoticeable for regular users, power users – who typically open multiple applications at the same time – will easily see the difference.
Start up, random access, and reading activities are all faster for solid state drives compared to hard disks. Remember those times when you had to defragment your drive to improve performance? This isn’t necessary anymore with solid state drives.
To top it all, an SSD does all this at a lower power consumption rate. Hard disks drain energy faster because some energy has to be allocated for moving the heads and spinning the platters. That’s why computer manufacturers once successfully sold out large quantities of notebooks with SSDs. Some users were attracted to their long battery lives.
Storage reliability issues
Now, what about reliability? In this aspect, which one has a clear advantage over the other? Most businesses – and perhaps even regular users – will prefer a storage device that can offer a better guarantee for the safety of their data
Having a drive with a large capacity or faster performance is great, but if you haven’t backed it up and can’t retrieve any of your data from it again, that’s going to translate to huge financial losses, missed opportunities, and wasted time.
So which technology has the edge in this department? Let’s take a closer look.
HDD Storage Reliability
Theoretically speaking, HDDs are supposed to be more susceptible to failures because of their moving parts. They can also fail for a variety of reasons: head crashes, too high temperature, too low temperature, static electricity, power surges, vibrations, or pollution of the air inside the sealed unit.
Failure rates of different HDDs can be as low as 3% and as high as 13%. As HDDs get older, they suffer from wear-and-tear and hence become more prone to failures; they typically exhibit failure rates of at least 6% for those units that are more than 2 years old.
HDDs can maintain acceptable failure rates only up to 3 years. Beyond that, you’d be exposing your data to high risks. By comparison, SSDs are expected to stay reliable up to 10 years… but again, that’s theoretical.
SSD Storage Reliability
When the netbook craze first started, manufacturers opted to use SSDs was because of their low power consumption and low failure rates during lab tests.
Interestingly, however, their supposed reliability didn’t manifest in the outside world. Failure rates of 10% to 20% were being reported for some netbooks carrying SSDs (many times a SSD can fail due to the controller, not the drive itself). By contrast, netbooks carrying HDDs had failure rates of 2% or less.
Still, because of their relatively higher prices, SSDs haven’t been used as extensively in desktops and servers as HDDs have. Thus, the experience of netbook users can’t be the sole gauge in determining whether HDDs are more reliable.
What can learned from these figures is that over time, SSDs and HDDs can have failure rates greater than 10%. That’s not good by any standard and that doesn’t bode well for people who rely so much on their data to keep their business running (and in this age, who doesn’t?).
Therefore, regardless what type of drive you use, it is important that you perform regular backups to your data. Just because you have a solid state drive holding your data doesn’t mean it’s safe from failure.
About the Author
Eric Nagel manages OnlineBackupsReview.com where he reviews online backup services, including Mozy, and reports on the latest industry news. He also provides readers an exclusive 15% off Mozy promotional code so they can save on the only 5-star-rated online backup service, Mozy.