One of the more overlooked aspects of building a gaming computer, or console, is deciding on what storage medium to use.
Currently, the choice is split between 2 main contenders, the more traditional HDD and the more modern SSD, each with advantages, disadvantages, innovations, and limitations.
Answer: An SSD is better for gaming.
While there are arguments for and against both of these storage mediums, the best thing to do is put them head to head and figure out what your best option is.
Remember that this is not a popularity contest and that we’re not looking for what the general consensus is.
We’re looking for the best solution for your gaming needs, and how both of these drives can affect them.
What Are SSDs And HDDs?
HDD, or Hard Disk Drive, is a more classical mechanical data storage drive. It relies on one or multiple metallic disks that are littered with microscopic cylinders in which the actual data is written and read.
When the drive is in use, the disk spins at speeds more than 7500 RPM, and a mechanical arm which has a read/write head travels along the length of the disk, reading and/or writing data as it goes along.
There are other HDD speeds such as 10,000 RPM often used for servers and raid setups. 5,400 RPM is often seen in older computers and lower end laptops.
SSD or Solid State Drive is a more modern digital data storage drive. It relies on integrated circuit assemblies, using them as the memory to store data on.
The concept is similar to RAM, NAND, and flash memory, relying on electronic controllers and storage chips, rather than any kind of mechanical part.
SSD vs HDD Speeds
I’ve included some personal tests in this section. While there are many professional tests out there, this is just a real-world example from my personal computer.
There are many factors that can affect a test, but I repeated the tests one after the other for both drives without any other applications running aside from those I used to test.
The HDD is a bit more modest in this respect because it first relies on how fast the CPU is, then how fast the actual disks spin, how fast the mechanical arm moves along the length of the disk, and in which cylinders the actual data is written.
Often, the data that it is looking for ends up spread over multiple cylinders in multiple regions and across multiple disks, so the process of reading and writing data can be a bit long.
My HDD Speed Test Results (Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM 3TB)
Test 1 – Disk Mark
HDD Result: Read 185 MB/s, Write 166 MB/s, Random RW 7 MB/s
Test 2 – Dxtory (Game Recording Software)
HDD Result: Write 118 MB/s
The SSD relies on CPU speed, to a point, to dictate the speed at which data is written to, or read off of, the unit itself.
An SSD has no mechanical parts and relies solely on its integrated circuits to do all the work, making it a lot faster.
In gaming, this translates into a lot faster loading times on an SSD compared to an HDD, and seamless transitional experiences.
My SSD Speed Test Results (Samsung 840 EVO 500GB)
Test 1 – Disk Mark
SSD Result: Read 464 MB/s, Write 428 MB/s, Random RW 326 MB/s
Test 2 – Dxtory (Game Recording Software)
SSD Result: Write 474 MB/s
The read and write speeds of my current SSD are more than double than my HDD. The random read-write just blows the HDD away.
At this point, I should stop the guide and just tell you to buy an SSD, but let’s continue on. There are a few other important things you need to consider.
SSD vs HDD Lifespan
From a strictly physical point of view, SSDs have the upper hand here.
HDDs have a general lifespan of 5-10 years, after which the probability that they fail or simply die out increases exponentially with each subsequent passing year.
SSDs can last anywhere between 50 and 150 years without failing, depending on the make, model, and technology used. From a software integrity point of view, the picture changes a little.
Because of its mechanical nature, relying on an actual physical medium (disk), which is enclosed hermetically and vacuum sealed, HDDs can easily hold the integrity of your data throughout their entire lifespan. The only exception is when the unit is exposed to a strong magnetic field.
An SSD, if written excessively on, can run the risk of developing bit rot.
Bit rot, or data rot, is a phenomenon in which the electric charge of an integrated circuit disperses, causing the memory itself to be altered, and the data becoming corrupted and unrecoverable.
This is a rather rare occurrence and only happens if data is constantly written to the disk, deleted, and rewritten over and over again.
From a usability point of view, the HDD has the upper hand.
An HDD has no actual writing limit, and no actual consequences if data is constantly written, deleted, and rewritten to it. This is also the main reason why many servers still use HDDs over SSDs.
SSDs, on the other hand, because they rely on integrated circuits, have a write limit. This is basically how many times you can write, and save, data onto the SSD before the unit becomes unresponsive and dies.
While there are ways of prolonging the lifespan of the SSD, like using TRIM to discard junk data and only write the actual useful data, the limit is still there.
Thankfully the limit is very permissive, usually around 100+ times the data capacity of the drive in cumulative writes, or a total number of tens or hundreds of thousands of writes.
It also depends a lot on the make and model of the SSD.
SSD Vs HDD Cost Effectiveness
When it comes to the cost of the units themselves, HDDs are always going to be a lot cheaper and a lot more accessible than SSDs, especially when looking at cost per capacity.
When looking at the pricing ramp-up when scaling up the storage capacity, we can easily see that SSDs ramp up in price a lot faster and a lot harder than HDDs.
However, there is a “quality versus quantity” argument that can be made here, because the major reason behind the SSD price ramp-up has a lot to do with the technology that is being put into the units themselves.
The more expensive units having better systems, a lot more resistant cells, better-integrated circuits and exponentially bigger data write limits than the more inexpensive ones.
Whereas with HDDs, the ramp-up is solely based on capacity and drive speeds, which is why it is a lot softer.
Final Thoughts – SSD Or HDD For Gaming?
For gaming purposes, the clear winner here is the SSD.
While there are still some kinks that technological evolution will eventually work out, there is no denying the fact that it is far superior to the HDD.
It is a lot more resilient, a lot faster, and a lot better equipped to handle the demands of modern day gaming.
So if you’re building your gaming device, or simply upgrading your existing one, your best bet is an SDD over an HDD.