Types of Hard Drives: SSD vs. SATA Hard Drive

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Updated 10/9/2019

There are two main types of drives, SATA hard drive and SSD internal hard drive. We will go over each of these in more detail, but it can help to ask yourself before you begin shopping, “Why do I need a new hard drive?”  

Why Do I Need a New Hard Drive?

First off, a general hard drive definition is this: the place where your data is stored. Here are two scenarios when you might need to go shopping for a new hard drive:

  1. Perhaps you noticed how fast other laptops are running compared to yours. If your documents and programs are taking forever to load, that’s a very good reason to start shopping for a new hard drive. For most of us, the stock desktop hard drive or laptop hard drive has simply run out of space and we can't add any more songs, Word docs, pictures, or videos.
  2. There are times when the unfortunate happens where you don't back up anything on our computer and one day your hard drive dies. You go to turn on your laptop and you get a "blue screen of death" or the dreaded hard drive error, "unmountable boot volume." If you've still got the installation disk for your OS, then you might have a chance at saving it, but that’s not likely.

Whatever the situation, understanding why you want or need a new drive will help you know what you want and need. Once you’ve got that figured out, it’s time to know more about the two main types of hard drives, SATA and SSD.

What Is SATA Hard Drive?

SATA hard drive

SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. It is a type of rewritable mass storage device, or hard drive, that transfers data to a computer by means of serial signaling technology. SATA replaced Parallel ATA (PATA) and is known for its excellent storage capacity and solid transmission speed.

SATA drives come in varying speeds and capacities, but the most recent generation is SATA III (or SATA 6Gb/s*, which is what its interface runs at) with a bandwidth (data transfer rate) throughput of 600MB/s.

*Note: Gb refers to gigabits, not gigabytes. 

What Is SSD?

Various SSD hard drives

What does SSD stand for? SSD stands for Solid-State Drive. It uses non-volatile memory (NVRAM) to hold and access data. It is known to be much faster at reading and writing data than SATA because it is not a mechanical hard drive. 

The latest SSDs boast capacity at 250GB/500GB/1TB/2TB.

Why Should You Consider a SATA Drive?

You should consider a SATA drive because:

  • They are far more common.
  • They are much less expensive.

While these are good reasons to consider a SATA drive, there are a few reasons not to:

  • They are slower to boot up.
  • They are slower in calling up data.
  • SATA drives are heavier than SSDs, and therefore less popular for the laptop owner.
  • There is a higher chance they'll go bad simply because there are several moving parts that can break. The higher the RPM, the higher the likelihood of the drive malfunctioning.

The bottom line, if you are looking to save money and get more bang for your buck, SATA drives should be your choice. Just be sure to research the reviews on different drives and pick the manufacturer with the highest-rated user reviews (that's usually the safest bet).

Why you should consider an SSD

You should consider an SSD because:

  • They are so much quicker than conventional SATA drives. With an SSD, you just click the icon and it opens right up.
  • There are no moving parts because there is no spinning disk like you would find in a SATA drive (which has to read and write data to an actual disk), so there is little chance of malfunction.
  • They are also lighter than the average SATA drive, which makes them a great choice for laptop hard drives.

The only drawback to buying an SSD is that they are more expensive than SATA drives.

Reasons to Get Both SATA and SSD

Now that you've had a crash course on the common types of hard drives and their features, you should feel confident going into your local computer shop or electronics store to make an informed decision. If you are shopping for your desktop, you should consider having the best of both worlds. Most desktops have multiple hard drive slots inside the case. If this is your situation then you can install a SATA drive and an SSD and get speed and capacity at the same time.

A lot of people will get a SATA drive to store their data, such as iTunes files, documents and pictures, while their operating system is stored on the SSD. With your OS stored on the SSD it will boot faster and respond snappier than it would on a SATA drive. Plus, most operating systems only need a small amount of space to run efficiently, so buying a SSD with only 20 to 40 GBs of space still saves you money. With a huge SATA drive to store your data, you'll be less likely to run out of storage in the near future.

When considering buying SSD vs. hard drive, why not consider having the best of both worlds? This way you can get a faster computer with more storage space. Most desktops have multiple hard drive slots inside the case. If this is your situation, then you can install a SATA drive and an SSD to add extra speed and capacity. 

For example, you can store your operating system (which only needs a small amount of space to run efficiently) on the SSD so it boots faster and responds snappier than it would on a SATA drive. Then, you can use the SATA drive to store other data, such as iTunes files, documents, and pictures. This way you'll be less likely to run out of storage in the near future.

If you are shopping for your laptop, you’ll most likely only be able to get SATA. That is, unless you purchase a high-end hybrid model with both a SATA and SSD drive for laptop capability built right in. 

Continue Building Your Knowledge and Skills

Now that you've had a crash course on the common types of hard drives and their features, you should feel confident making an informed decision. Take a good look at the reasons behind replacing your drive, the amount of space you need, and how much you can spend. By doing that and applying what you've learned here, your hard drive buying experience will be easy.

If you're ready to build your skills for the cloud computing boom, then Pluralsight’s entire training library is available, including expert-led courses on vCloud Director, vSphere, and more.


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Greg Stuart

Greg Stuart is a vExpert and systems administrator/network administrator by trade, who has worked a slew of IT jobs in his career. He's put his time in with certification training, obtaining A+, Network+, Security+, MCP, CCNA, VCP4, VCP5 and NCDA. He now works as an IT consultant and runs the blogs, vDestination and vLATAM.