- 256GB is still a standard size for most SSDs, which operate under a different technology than traditional hard drives.
- The speed and performance of a hard drive are not determined by its capacity, but rather by factors like the interface used for data transfer.
- SSDs are generally more expensive than HDDs, and the choice between 256GB and 512GB depends on individual needs and budget.
- For casual computer users, 512GB is the minimum recommended storage capacity, while 256GB may be sufficient for specific purposes like work documents or pictures.
If you know anything about personal computers, you’ve probably heard about 512GB vs. 256GB drives. These numbers get called around all the time when talking about computers. You’ve also probably encountered some technical terms like gigabyte and terabyte, and you know that they have something to do with hard drives. Sometimes though, what seems obvious at first glance, isn’t after some close examination.
In this article, we’ll talk about hard drive capacity (and its increase over the years), we’ll compare these two storage spaces, we’ll discuss the role of SSDs (solid-state drives) in modern computers, and we’ll also go over some of the technical terminology associated with them.
256GB vs. 512GB: Side-by-Side Comparison
For now, let’s go over some key characteristics.
|Peak of common use
|Usual Data Transfer Speed
|Suitability for Gaming
|Suitability for Internet Use
What is a Gigabyte?
Before jumping to the key differences between these two storage capacities, we should first understand what the units we use to measure them mean.
In computing, data is measured in standardized storage units, each with a specific “magnitude”, which is just a fancy term for size. The system of units is based on the binary nature of computers.
At a quick glance, a bit is the smallest unit, and it represents a binary digit (0 or 1). Then, we build upon that to reach the byte (8 bits), the kilobyte (1024 bytes), the megabyte (1024 kilobytes), and the gigabyte (1024 megabytes).
The precise reasons why each unit represents 1024 of the smaller units and not just 1000 are not important to us right now, but you should remember that storage capacity multiplies greatly with each unit jump. A single gigabyte can store more than a thousand times more data than a megabyte.
So, for our purposes, you should remember that 512GB is only double the size of 256GB. Don’t let the weird units confuse you!
256GB vs. 512GB: What’s the Difference?
Now that we know what we’re really talking about here, let’s review some of the key characteristics and differences between these two storage capacities.
As time has passed and tech has improved, the standard now for most hard drives has become 1 terabyte (1024GB). So, while a 256GB drive can seem a little outdated for most modern computers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some specific uses you could give to it.
For example, if you need a place to store all your family photos or all the videos you recorded during a trip, a 256GB external drive would probably fit the part and serve you well. The issue is that while 256GB was a humongous amount of data fifteen years ago, any 4K video you can now record on your phone will eat that up fairly easily.
However, 256GB is still a standard size for most SSDs (solid-state drives), which operate under a different technology than most hard drives we know. These drives, which we’ll talk about in the next section, can make use of a smaller capacity much more efficiently.
More or less, the same applies to a 512GB drive. However, it’s still somewhat common to see this capacity in very affordable computers, or laptops geared at internet and cloud use.
For example, most Chromebooks, laptops designed to use internet applications, can get by with only 128GB. Some low-end laptops geared at students and office work still offer 512GB drives.
So, while using a 512GB drive for photos and such would probably be best, it can also be used for a computer or laptop. It’s probably the minimum storage anyone would recommend to someone trying to build a PC for gaming or family use.
Speed and Performance
By now you’re probably wondering if one drive would be faster than the other. Strictly speaking, storage capacity has nothing to do with data transfer speed or any other specification a hard drive can have.
In general though, it’s possible that 512GB will use newer SATA interfaces. SATA is an acronym that refers to the standard technological interface used to transfer data from a hard drive to a computer and vice versa. The best SATA model, SATA 3.3, can transfer up to 6GB per second.
Older drives will use SATA 2.0, which used to be standard fifteen or so years ago. Some older hard disk models may still use this interface, which can only transfer up to 3GB per second.
This whole discussion, however, has centered on HDDs, or hard disk drives. We mentioned earlier that SSDs, or solid-state drives, work with a technology that makes them more efficient.
Solid-State Drives (SSDs)
Basically, SSDs lack many of the mechanical components that make up an HDD. They are much more suited, not for the permanent storing of data, but for the usual back and forth that a computer can have with a storage unit.
This is reflected in the difference in boot times or latency between these two technologies. Remember that it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a 256GB or 512GB drive, as we’re talking about the differences between SDDs and HDDs now.
Let’s imagine that you’re on your computer and want to access a particular folder on your desktop. The time it takes for a normal HDD to process that and show you the contents of that folder ranges from 5 to 12 milliseconds, while the time it would take for an SSD to process that action would be less than 0.1 milliseconds. It is possible that a 512GB SDD will be a bit faster, but in general the performance of a drive has little to do with its capacity.
Just take the time it takes for your PC to boot up after you press the button on the case. If your operating system is installed on a normal HDD, it will take 30 to 40 seconds, whereas if your OS is installed on an SSD that time will be lower than 10 seconds.
This means that a 256GB SSD is the go-to for most people, as you can use it to install your operating system and the main games or apps you use. Then, they’ll be quicker to access and your PC will take less time to boot up.
So now you’re wondering how much SSDs cost. Fair enough, though the first thing you should know is that SSDs are generally much pricier than an HDD. What most users do is buy a big HDD for their main storage unit, and a smaller but faster SSD for their OS and main apps. Let’s focus on 256GB and 512GB drives.
Depending on your preference and your intended usage, you might be looking at $100+ for a high-end SSD, or $60 for a similarly sized HDD. A 256GB SDD will cost around $20, while a 512GB one will cost over $30. Prices vary greatly depending on the quality of the device and other specifications that we won’t go into in this article. For example, a drive that has a higher RPM (revolutions per minute), which means it will read and write data faster, will usually cost you more money than a slower one. While 256GB HDDs are not really manufactured anymore, a high-end 512GB HDD will cost you around $20.
Nevertheless, you might not need a high-end SSD like an avid gamer would, and you might not need a 2TB (terabyte) HDD if you’re just a student. Balancing your needs with your budget is always a must.
256GB vs. 512GB: 7 Must-Know Facts
- Gigabytes are the standard unit of measurement for storage drives today, and they amount to 1024MB.
- 512GB can fit twice the data than 256GB can.
- The size of a hard drive doesn’t correlate with its speed.
- Hard disk drives (HDD) are not the only storage devices we have: SSDs (solid-state drives) also exist and make more efficient use of smaller storage capacities.
- SDDs are generally more expensive and store less data than HDDs.
- 512GB is the minimum storage capacity a gamer should consider.
- 256GB is fine if you only intend to use the internet with your computer, but this is rarely the case, and you’ll generally find that 256GB won’t be enough.
256GB vs. 512GB: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
So, let’s recapitulate. Gigabytes are the units that we use to measure storage capacities. A 256GB drive is half the size of a 512GB drive, but that doesn’t tell us anything about its speed or performance.
In essence, both 256GB and 512GB are becoming more and more outdated with each day. Videos are longer and take up more space, and 4k resolution is becoming the standard for media and photos. The truth is that we would only recommend 256GB for an SSD or a hard drive dedicated exclusively to work documents or pictures. 512GB is the minimum for a casual computer user except in cases where you’re only using the web, and don’t plan to play games or use applications on it.
SDDs are less affordable than HDDs, so in the end, you’ll have to consider your needs and purchase one accordingly. While the improved speed of SSDs might be attractive to gamers, it might not be necessary for office workers.
The same goes for choosing between 256GB and 512GB. If you want a gaming PC, you should certainly go for 512GB, but if you only want a laptop with an SDD that you’ll use to search the internet, 256GB will be just fine. Also, external drives such as USB drives generally come in sizes closer to 256GB, so if what you’re looking for isn’t to upgrade your PC or buy an SDD, 256GB will probably be your choice. So take all of this into consideration before making your choice!