An image of the mechanical parts of a hard disk drive or HDD that features a rotating metallic magnetic disk and a magnetic read-write head.

HDD: Advantages and Disadvantages of Hard Disk Drive

A hard disk drive or HDD is a hardware device used for storing data. This specific type of storage device uses magnetic recording to store and retrieve data.

There are two critical parts in a typical HDD. These are paired magnetic head that writes and reads data on a spinning magnet-coated metal platter. The magnetic head and metal platter are mechanical or moving parts. It is worth mentioning that these parts differentiate a hard disk drive from solid-state storage devices. A particular solid-state drive or SSD has non-moving interconnected flash memories for storing and retrieving data.

HDDs were the default main storage medium in personal computers from the 1980s to the middle of 2000s. The emergence of mobile and portable devices has made solid-state storage solutions more popular. Hence, although HDDs are still abundant, SSDs are becoming more prominent in computers where portability and form factor are important considerations. Hence, hard disk drives are regularly pitted against SSDs.

This article lists and describes the pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages of a hard disk drive when compared to a solid-state drive.

Pros of HDD: Advantages of a Hard Disk Drive Over SSD

1. Cheaper Than Solid-State Drive

A hard disk drive is more affordable than a solid-state drive in consideration of dollar pricing per gigabit. A specific solid-state drive with similar storage capacity as an HDD can be twice to thrice more expensive. This also means that computers and other consumer electronic devices equipped with an SSD are more expensive than those equipped with an HDD.

The price difference arises from the fundamental differences in the technologies behind a hard disk drive and a solid-state drive. SSDs are made of advanced integrated circuit assemblies or flash memories. These are expensive to produce. The mechanical components of HDDs such as spinning platters and read-write heads are more cost-effective to manufacture.

2. Larger Base Storage Capacity

A higher storage capacity is another advantage of a hard disk drive over a solid-state drive. Most HDDs in retail stores are sold at a higher base capacity of 500GB to 1TB. SSDs are sold at a starting base capacity of 128GB or 256GB. This means that computers equipped with a hard disk drive or external HDD storage often come with at least 500GB of base storage.

The generous storage capacity of HDDs is particularly advantageous in situations that require large amounts of storage space for applications, multimedia content, and data archiving. This makes them a preferred choice for use cases in which storage takes precedence over sheer speed. Examples include large-scale data processing, multimedia editing, and backup solutions.

3. More Accessible Solid-State Drive

Another advantage of a hard disk drive is market availability. There is an abundance of manufacturers that flood the market with internal and external HDD storage devices. SSDs have become more available but it is still more convenient to purchase high-quality and high-capacity hard disk drives due to better availability and affordability.

The aforementioned make HDDs a practical choice for those who prioritize budget-conscious storage solutions without compromising storage capacity. This convenience, combined with the extensive market availability, has made hard disk drives a suitable option for a wide spectrum of users which include end-use consumers and enterprise consumers.

4. Higher Read-Write Cycles

Furthermore, compared to a solid-state drive, a notable advantage of a hard disk drive or more specifically, another benefit of using an HDD over an SSD is its longevity based on its higher read-write cycles. Note that there is only a limited number of times data can be stored and retrieved on an SSD because its flash memories have a finite number of writes.

An SSD needs to erase and rewrite large blocks of data at a time before writing a single bit of data. Repetitive read-write cycles shorten the lifespan of flash memories. HDDs do not experience the same wear and tear when writing and rewriting data. This makes it a more enduring storage solution in use cases involving frequent data modification.

Cons of HDD: Disadvantages of a Hard Disk Drive Over SSD

1. Slower Read-Write Speed Than SSD

One of the notable cons or disadvantages of a hard disk drive, specifically when compared to a solid-state drive, is the speed at which it writes and reads data. This is more evident when performing tasks that involve extensive data read and write operations, An SSD is faster. A particular SATA SSD has read and write speeds of between 200 Mbps and 500 Mbps while an NVMe SSD has read and write speeds of between 3000 Mbps and 3500 Mbps.

The read and write speeds of an HDD are between 80 Mbps and 160 Mbps, and this depends on the RPM or rotation per minute specification. Data are also fragmented in an HDD due to its rotary recording surface. Take note that a computer equipped with an HDD boosts slower and can operate relatively slower than a counterpart equipped with an SSD.

2. Power Consumption and Inefficiency

A hard disk drive consumes more power than a solid-state drive. It needs more power input and continuous power supply to operate its mechanical parts or its magnetic head and the rotating metallic platter. This limitation is another reason why an HDD is not a popular option for battery-powered devices such as laptops or low-powered desktop computers.

Manufacturers choose to equip portable computers with solid-state drives to promote further energy efficiency. An SSD has an idle power consumption of between 0.1 and 1.5 watts and an active power consumption of between 2 and 5 watts. This is lower than an HDD which requires about 1 to 2 watts while inactive and 5 to 10 watts while in operation.

3. Produces Distracting Mechanical Sound

Noise is another disadvantage of a hard disk drive. The rotation of the metallic platter and the back-and-forth movement of the magnetic head create mechanical noises and subtle vibrations. These acoustic and tactile manifestations are more noticeable during booting the computers, writing a large amount of data, or running large software applications.

On the other hand, compared to an HDD, a solid-state drive does not produce any mechanical sound because of the absence of mechanical movements. The noise generated by hard disk drives can be particularly intrusive in quiet environments and may be a source of distraction for users who value a noise-free workspace or require distraction-free environments.

4. Less Durable Than Solid-State Drive

The most pressing disadvantage of a hard disk drive is its susceptibility to data loss and integrity failure due to physical vulnerability. The mechanical components within an HDD, particularly the spinning platters and read-write heads, are susceptible to mechanical failure and damage if the device is subjected to sudden shocks, falls, or even mild vibrations

Physical stress can lead to the misalignment or collision of these components, and further to data corruption and data loss. Nevertheless, because a solid-state drive does not have mechanical components, it is more durable than an HDD and it is more suitable for laptops or in situations that involve more frequent movement of the storage device.

5. Larger Physical Form Factor

The form factor of a hard disk drive is bulkier than an SSD. Manufacturers cannot reduce the size of an HDD because of the inherent size and placement of its mechanical or moving parts. This physical limitation makes HDD unsuitable for applications in which mobility and smaller physical profiles are important design and selling point factors.

A solid-state drive is specifically about 90 percent less in size compared to a hard disk drive. It is also thinner. Even a 4-inch solid-state drive with a thinness similar to three stacked credit cards and a weight of about a gram can have the same storage capacity as a bulkier and heavier HDD. This is the reason why modern laptops are equipped with solid-state drives.

Takeaway: Advantages and Disadvantages of Hard Disk Drive

Based on the aforementioned pros and cons of a hard disk drive, especially when compared to a solid-state drive, this storage device is suitable for budget-oriented consumers. It might not be as fast and as durable as an SSD but it also has unique use cases. HDDs are ideal in use cases that involve extensive data processing and long-term data storage. The unique features and capabilities or advantages of these storage devices make them more suitable as a backup storage solution and as the main storage solution for data centers and enterprise computers.