SSD vs HDD: Speed, Life Span, Failure Rate, Price and More

May 3, 2024 • Shannon Flynn


Should you get a solid-state drive (SSD) or a hard disk drive (HDD)? Be wary when asking a forum or your friends — their answers are probably biased or anecdotal. Instead, look to hard facts. The only way to settle your SSD vs HDD debate is to check out the metrics.

Why the Debate Over SSD vs HDD?

SSDs are called “solid-state” because, unlike HDDs, they don’t have moving parts. Instead, they use electronic circuits to store and retrieve data in blocks. They’re considered the gold standard of storage because they typically outperform the alternatives. 

HDDs rely on mechanical components. They use electrical charges to store data on spinning disks called platters. Each platter has an arm with a magnetic head. The arm’s read/write head stores and retrieves information as the disk spins. 

The SSD vs HDD debate concerns you if you have a computer. These drives act as the long-term memory — meaning permanent data storage — of your PC. What you use your PC for, how often you power it and what you store are all important deciding factors.

Read/Write Speed: SSD

SSD is the clear winner of this SSD vs HDD category, as its read/write speed is several times faster than HDD. While a consumer-grade HDD’s read speed tops out at a few hundred Megabytes (MBs) per second, equivalent SSDs are faster — and high-end versions can reach thousands of MBps. How noticeable the difference is depends on the type of drive you get.

The speed of an NVMe SSD, a SATA SSD and an HDD. Source: Whiszan Tech

A Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) drive — the slowest type of SSD — can easily reach 500 MBps read speeds. It can shorten loading times and boot times significantly. If you switch from an HDD to one of these, you’ll see a noticeable difference. 

Modern SSDs use the non-volatile memory express (NVMe) communication protocol and attach to your PC through the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) slot. While PCIe 3.0 is capable of read speeds of up to 3,500 MBps, PCIe 4.0 can reach speeds of up to 7,000 MBps. If you see “PCIe NVMe SSD” on a PC parts list, you know it’s fast.

Storage Space: It’s a Tie 

Technically, since SSDs store data on integrated circuits instead of mechanical components, they can’t hold as much as HDDs. However, this detail is insignificant considering they both come in 512 Gigabytes, 1 Terabyte (TB) and 2 TBs — typical sizes for the average consumer. 

Although HDDs can hold more data — it’s cheaper to fill a drive with high-capacity platters than to construct a sizeable SSD — the gap is quickly closing. In fact, one of the largest drives in the world is a 100 TB SSD that retails for $400 per TB. 

Life Span: SSD

You can expect an SSD to last you at least five years — and up to 10 if you’re careful. On the other hand, HDDs last three to five years on average. While there are fringe cases of SSDs failing after one year, you should consider those data points as outliers.

Over time, HDD moving parts can crash or break due to wear. If they’re not connected to power, their magnetic fields can degrade. Eventually, this results in the drive becoming unusable. 

A hard disk drive
The read/write arm of an HDD.

While the SSD vs HDD debate about life span will continue to evolve as storage technology advances, SSDs are currently your safest bet if you want a drive that will last you a long time. If you’re concerned about durability, consider a warranty. 

Reliability: SSD

Here, the win goes to SSDs because HDDs are slightly more prone to corruption and data loss. They have no moving parts, meaning read/write head crashes and magnetism loss caused by wear or unexpected power outages don’t affect them. 

Research shows SSDs had a 0.92% annualized failure rate over five years, while HDDs had a 3.55% failure rate. In other words, one is a lot more reliable than the other.

That said, there is a caveat — the trapped electrical charges SSDs rely on to store information can slowly leak over time when offline. If temperatures exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they can corrupt after two years at most. Generally, these drives are best for daily use.

Price: HDD

A quick Amazon search shows a 1 TB SSD goes for about $55-$100. On the other hand, a 1 TB HDD ranges from about $25-55. Since HDDs have been around longer and aren’t as advanced, they’ll generally be about half the price as their counterpart.

A solid state drive
The size of a 1 TB PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD.

That said, the price difference is negligible once you get into higher-capacity storage. While a typical 2 TB PCIe NVMe SSD goes for less than $80, an equivalent HDD costs about $60. Paying an extra $20 might be worth it for the various performance improvements.

Energy Efficiency: SSD

SSDs are much more energy-efficient than their counterparts because they have no moving parts. Research shows they consume 50% less power than HDDs while active — they draw 4 Watts while the other uses 8 Watts. 

The same research shows an SSD consumes less than 400 Milliwatts per hour while idle. On the other hand, HDDs generally don’t dip below a 3 Watt-hour consumption range — that’s a significant difference, considering there are 1,000 Milliwatts in one Watt.

While read/write speed can complicate things, the math still checks out. Ultimately, an HDD takes up 15 times more power to process the same workload. It shouldn’t be your first choice if you’re concerned about sustainability.

Noise Level: SSD

SSDs are silent because they store and retrieve information using electronic circuits. Since HDDs rely on mechanical components, they’re much louder. For example, you’ll hear their drive platters spinning and their read/write arm ticking back and forth when you start a program or play a game. If having a noisy PC bugs you, you should consider this factor. 

SSD vs HDD: Which One Should You Choose?

You shouldn’t let online discourse sway your opinion when choosing parts for your PC. Instead, look to research, case studies and hard facts like the ones in this list for guidance. The SSD vs HDD debate winner is clear — SSDs outperform the alternative by a long shot by most metrics.