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3 Different Types of Hard Disk: Exploring Hard Drives from SATA to SSD

types of hard disk

3 Different Types of Hard Disk: Exploring Hard Drives from SATA to SSD

There’s nothing short of a baker’s dozen when we look at the different types of hard disks, from SATA to SSD. But what do all the abbreviations, numbers, and letters mean when it’s time to purchase a new drive for your laptop, desktop computer, or gaming device?

Fortunately, there’s a massive selection of hard drive options. Rest assured, you’ll find a suitable device after some homework. (That’s why you’re here, right?!?)

We’ve owned a lot of hard drives over the years. The death rattle of a hard drive about to pass into “platter heaven” isn’t music to our ears. We’ve listened to “nothing” when our SSDs left us all alone without our data.

Yet, we’ve had far more success with drives than failures. We want drives with a good storage capacity, the ability to operate (spin) reasonably quietly, and ones that won’t shatter the piggy bank.

We have a lot of information to share with you about drives. Are you ready? We’re gonna chat about solid-state drives, hard disk drives, and drive interfaces such as PATA, SATA, PCIe, and NVMe. Rest assured, by the time we’re done, you’ll be an expert on the different types of hard disks. Let’s go!

Exploring Hard Drives from SATA to SSD: Side-by-Side Comparison

Solid State Drive (SSD)Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Year Introduced20001970
Windows boot time15 Seconds55 Seconds
Drive Rotational speedZero7200 rpm
Random Data Rate Read (IOPS)≦88k169k
Random Data Rate Write (IOPS)≦60k169k
Sequential Data Rate Read (MB/s)≦505 MB/s156 MB/s
Sequential Data Rate Write (MB/s)≦470 MB/s156 MB/s
Impact/Shock Resistance1,500G @ .5ms350G @ .5ms
Energy Consumption.11 W.91 W
NoiseSilent27dB
Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)2,000,000 hours350,000 hours
Moving PartsNone2
Storage Capability – Maximum30.72 TB20 TB 
Cost (approximate)6 cents per GB2.5 cents per GB
Cost Example 2TB Internal HDD$119$50
Solid State Drive versus Hard Disk Drive

Types of Hard Drives: What’s the Difference?

Fundamentally, there are two different types of storage for your laptop or desktop computer: a hard disk drive or a solid-state drive. To understand the difference, let’s examine the primary differences between these two types of hard disks.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

A hard disk drive (HDD or HD) is non-volatile data storage. The data will remain on the hard drive even when it does not have power supplied. Platters are constructed of ceramic, glass, or aluminum and coated with a magnetic medium.

Our Pick
Seagate BarraCuda 2TB Internal Hard Drive HDD
$64.99
  • ‎7200 RPM
  • ‎6 GB RAM, 2 TB digital storage capacity
  • SATA 6.0 Gb/s hardware interface
  • 3.5-inch form factor
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/17/2024 07:55 am GMT

When power is supplied to the HDD, the platters inside the device begin to spin inside an airless chamber. As the platters rotate, data is collected from the platters or written to the platters by a magnetic head.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

A solid-state drive is volatile data storage. Instead of spinning platters, an SSD is comprised of NAND flash memory used for data storage. As a volatile memory device, the SSD needs energy to store data. Industry experts believe that most SSD will retain data without power for 3-5 years. 

Types of Interfaces: What’s the Difference?

Another layer of complexity to selecting between different types of hard disk options for your laptop or hard drive is the bus interface. Let’s take a look at the primary contenders.

Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment (PATA)

PATA devices initially used a ribbon cable with a 40-pin connection. The connections needed grounding, so there were challenges with the conductor cross-talk. The cable was modified to 80 pins, 40 pins for data transmission, and 40 pins for grounding.

  • The maximum length of a PATA connection is eighteen inches.
  • Energy consumption is approximately 5V.
  • Data transfer speeds of approximately 133MB/s.
  • Thicker (when compared to SATA) ribbon cable impedes airflow.
  • One hard drive only.
  • Hot swapping of drives isn’t allowed. 

SATA cables replaced PATA connections, so let’s look at SATA. 

Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA)

The SATA configuration is seven pins. The SATA cables are more flexible than PATA cables and can be used in longer lengths.

  • The maximum length of a SATA cable can vary by HDD configuration, but an approximate estimate is three feet three inches. This length is crazy long. (Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.)
  • Energy consumption is approximately 250mV.
  • Data transfer speeds of approximately 600MB/s.
  • Thinner cable (than PATA) allows better airflow.
  • OK to use an external additional hard drive in conjunction with the internal drive.
  • Hot swapping of drives is allowed.

Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe)

The primary advantage of the SATA configuration is that it allows older computers to use SSD drives. Similarly to the PATA configuration limiting hard drive capability and the industry switching to SATA, now SATA is making way for NvMe. But what is PCIe?

PCIe Layout vs. SATA Layout

The hard drive industry published standards (M.2) to update and replace the previous SATA standards. Previously, SSDs and HHD could be connected to the motherboard through a cable or ribbon. The new standard (M.2) stipulates that the SDD identifies the allowable dimensions.

Laptops will (typically) have the SSD attached directly to the motherboard for the power supply and data transfer. Desktops (generally) have the SSD connected with a power cable from the power supply unit and a SATA data cable attached to the drive.

Our Pick
SAMSUNG 870 EVO 2TB SATA SSD
$191.76
  • 560 Mb per second transfer rate
  • SATA 6.0 Gb/s hardware interface
  • 2 TB digital storage capacity
  • Serial ATA interface
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 10:00 am GMT

Pro Tip: A SSD PCIe is a PCIe card that has been adapted by attaching an M.2 card. If your motherboard lacks an M.2 slot, you’ll need this adapter card. What’s an M.2? An M.2 is an SSD that plugs directly into a motherboard. Not sure what you need? Check here.

SATA connections transfer data on one lane. PCle can transmit data on four lanes. Let’s look at the specs for two similar-capacity drives, one SATA and one PCIe.

Solid State Drive (SSD)+SATASolid State Drive (SSD) +PCIe
Year Introduced20002011
Size/Capacity4TB4TB
Transfer Speed560MB7300MB
Physical Dimensions3.94 x 2.76 x 0.27 inches0.87 x 0.09 x 3.16 inches
Cost (approximate)7 cents per GB11 cents per GB
Cost Example 4TB Internal SDD$270$468
SSD SATA versus SSD PCIe

The chart above shows that the dimensions between the SSD SATA and SSD PCIe are pretty different. The SATA configuration is based on a physical HDD (the SSD replaced it!) and the SSD with PCle that was designed to connect to the motherboard.

Our Pick
FireCuda 530 4TB SSD M.2 PCIe
$428.75
  • PCIE x 4 hard disk interface
  • 4 TB size
  • Great for gaming (up to 7300MB/s)
  • Compatible with PS5 consoles
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT

To take advantage of the speed available through the PCle interface, the SSD must have an NVMe chip. Let’s dip our toes into the non-volatile memory express pond!

NVMe (Non-volatile Memory Express)

VNMe is a communication protocol specifically designed to work with the PCle motherboard bus interface. The SSD must be designed with an NVMe controller chip to use the NVMe configuration.

Different Types of Hard Disks: What’s the Difference?

Now that we understand the difference between HDDs and SDDs, let’s take a look at a few!

Hard Disk Drives (HDD)

Seagate Internal HDD (Laptop) Seagate Internal HDD (Desktop PC) Seagate Desktop
Size/Capacity4TB6TB8TB
Physical Dimensions3.9 x 2.7 x 0.6inches5.8 x 4.0 x 1.0 inches6.7 x 1.8 x 5.5 inches
Cache Memory Size128M256M128MB
Cost (approximate)$179$110$150
Cost Example4.5 cents per GB.2 cents per GB.2 cents per GB
Hard Disk Drives
Our Pick
Seagate 4TB Laptop HDD SATA
$400.00
  • 4 TB hard disk size
  • 5400 RPM
  • 128 MB digital storage capacity
  • Serial ATA-600 hard disk interface
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT

While all three of the above-listed devices have hard disk drives (with spinning disks!), each serves a different purpose. Laptop HDDs have a specific size listing of hard disk form factor of 2.5 inches. HDDs for desktop computers have a hard disk form factor of 3.5 inches.

Our Pick
Seagate Desktop 8TB External Hard Drive HDD
$239.00
  • Works with Mac/ Windows
  • 8TB of desktop storage
  • Includes an 18 inches USB 3.0 cable and 18-watt power adapter
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT

What HDD (or SDD) fits into which system is very dynamic. (Read the owner’s manual!) Many desktop configurations will also accept a hard disk form factor of 2.5 inches!

Solid State Drives (SDD) with SATA

SDDs are the bee’s knees for rapid data access; they crush HDDs’ transfer speeds.

SAMSUNG 870 EVO SATA SSD (Laptop)Seagate IronWolf (Desktop)Crucial Portable SSD
Size/Capacity1TB10TB4TB
Physical Dimensions3.94 x 2.76 x 0.27 inches5.79 x 4.01 x 1.03 inches2.72 x 0.43 x 2.52 inches
Data Transfer Rate560 Mb per second6 Gb per second800MB/s
Cost (approximate)$40$200$221
Cost Example4 cents per GB2 cents per GB5.5 cents per GB
SSDs with SATA

A funny thing happened on the way to the office…the prices increased from HDDs! A great thing about HDDs is their cheap cost. Ya gotta love ‘em! The great thing about SDDs is that the file transfer speed is approximately 4X of the HHD SATA.

Our Pick
Crucial X6 2TB Portable SSD
$104.99
  • Read speeds up to 800MB/s
  • 2 TB digital storage capacity
  • USB 3.2 hard disk interface
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT

Another fun item to note is that the external SDD is smaller than the external HDD! SDDs are not popular for external or backup drives. The non-volatile memory and very low cost of ownership of HDDs make them an easy selection for a secondary external hard drive.

Solid State Drives (SDD) with PCIe + NVMe

SSD drives with both PCIe and NVMe are the fastest drives available today. Choosing a drive that’s compatible with your laptop or desktop becomes a bit more complex.

Our Pick
SAMSUNG 990 PRO SSD
$183.14
  • 2 TB digital storage capacity
  • 7450 MB per second transfer rate
  • PCI hardware interface
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT
SAMSUNG 990 PRO (Laptop or Desktop)SABRENT Rocket 4
Size/Capacity2TB8TB
Physical Dimensions0.87 x 3.15 x 0.94 inches3.15 x 0.79 x 0 inches
Data Transfer Rate7450 MB per second7100 MB per second
Cost (approximate)$180$1,100
Cost Example9 cents per GB14 cents per GB
SSDs with PCIe and NVMe
Top Performance
SABRENT 8TB Rocket 4
$1,083.98
  • NVMe M.2 PCIe Gen4 x4 interface
  • 7,000MB per second transfer rate
  • Supports the ONFi 2.3, ONFi 3.0, ONFi 3.2 and ONFi 4.0 interface
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT

With a price tag of $1,100, or 14 cents per GB, the Sabrent Rocket 4 is almost the largest capacity drive and absolutely the most expensive drive we’ve evaluated.

Different Types of Hard Disk:11 Must-Know Facts

  1. There are two primary types of drives for data storage: hard disk drives and solid-state drives.
  2. Hard disk drives will be around for a while, unless something incredibly unforeseen happens. The high cost of computer chips for solid-state drives renders them highly impractical for large amounts of data storage.
  3. Hard disk drives revolve around SATA, not PCIe.
  4. Some (not all) solid-state drives function with PCIe and NVMe.
  5. Some (not all) solid-state drives operate with only PCIe.
  6. VVMe is a communication protocol specifically designed to work with the PCle motherboard bus interface.
  7. Check your computer (motherboard) documentation carefully before upgrading your hard drive. Some types of motherboards do not accept newer SDD configurations.
  8. If you have a motherboard that allows it, you can install both an SSD and an HDD. The SSD is perfect for operations and applications, and the HDD is ideal for long-term storage. (Determine if you need an M.2 SSD or a PCIe adapter.)
  9. SSDs are much more “hearty” than HDDs. You can drop a laptop with an SDD, and the odds are high that the SDD won’t break. (Something else might shatter or break, but not the SDD.)
  10. An SDD should last ten years, and an HDD is expected to last 3-5 years.
  11. Bonus: Back up your hard drive data. We mean it. Buy an external HDD and do it, or back up to a cloud server and handle it through their HDD. Just do it. Since we’re being bossy, might we also suggest that you not back up your hard drive onto your existing hard drive? Back up the current hard drive to a different media.

Different Types of Hard Disks: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Selecting the best theoretical hard drive is simple once you’ve sorted through the different types of hard disks. The challenge of choosing any component for individual users is that there are many different applications. The best drive for us may not be the best drive for you. Let’s take a look at a few practical recommendations.

  • Hard drive backups: Go with a hard disk drive. HDDs are incredibly affordable and have gigantic sizes available for home use. We like the Seagate Desktop 8TB External Hard Drive HDD. (It’s been sitting on our desk for several years, automatically performing routine drive backups.)
  • Gaming: Add a little boost to your FPS with a WD 1TB Game Driver. In terms of gaming, this is as good as you’ll find today. It’s compatible with Xbox, PlayStation, Macs, and PCs.
  • Laptops:
    • An mSATA is a tiny SSD installed directly onto your motherboard by placing it in the mSATA connector. An mSATA card will only work correctly if the connector on the motherboard is configured for mSATA cards.
    • An M.2 is PCIe or SATA capable. (M.2 is faster.)
  • Video editing: Tricky! You don’t need a massive drive to edit videos, but you do need a big drive if you plan to keep the videos! As the GoPro revolution marches onwards towards 6K resolution videos, the size of the videos is increasing, as well. We’d suggest one SSD where the video data resides during editing and then a second (hard lean to HDD) drive to contain all the completed videos.
  1. Seagate BarraCuda 2TB Internal Hard Drive HDD
    $64.99
    • ‎7200 RPM
    • ‎6 GB RAM, 2 TB digital storage capacity
    • SATA 6.0 Gb/s hardware interface
    • 3.5-inch form factor
    Buy on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/17/2024 07:55 am GMT
  2. SAMSUNG 870 EVO 2TB SATA SSD
    $191.76
    • 560 Mb per second transfer rate
    • SATA 6.0 Gb/s hardware interface
    • 2 TB digital storage capacity
    • Serial ATA interface
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 10:00 am GMT
  3. FireCuda 530 4TB SSD M.2 PCIe
    $428.75
    • PCIE x 4 hard disk interface
    • 4 TB size
    • Great for gaming (up to 7300MB/s)
    • Compatible with PS5 consoles
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT
  4. Seagate 4TB Laptop HDD SATA
    $400.00
    • 4 TB hard disk size
    • 5400 RPM
    • 128 MB digital storage capacity
    • Serial ATA-600 hard disk interface
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT
  5. Seagate Desktop 8TB External Hard Drive HDD
    $239.00
    • Works with Mac/ Windows
    • 8TB of desktop storage
    • Includes an 18 inches USB 3.0 cable and 18-watt power adapter
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:42 pm GMT
  6. Crucial X6 2TB Portable SSD
    $104.99
    • Read speeds up to 800MB/s
    • 2 TB digital storage capacity
    • USB 3.2 hard disk interface
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT
  7. SAMSUNG 990 PRO SSD
    $183.14
    • 2 TB digital storage capacity
    • 7450 MB per second transfer rate
    • PCI hardware interface
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT
  8. SABRENT 8TB Rocket 4
    $1,083.98
    • NVMe M.2 PCIe Gen4 x4 interface
    • 7,000MB per second transfer rate
    • Supports the ONFi 2.3, ONFi 3.0, ONFi 3.2 and ONFi 4.0 interface
    Buy Now on Amazon

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/16/2024 12:43 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four types of hard drives?

Solid-state drives (SSD), Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA), Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment (PATA), and Small Computer System Interface SCSI (pronounce it “scuzzy”).

While we’ve worked with SCSI drives in professional environments, they’re not even remotely common in home use, so we didn’t include them in our discussion.

Which is better, Solid State Drives (SDD) or Hard Disk Drives (HDD)?

SSDs have faster data collection than HHDs, are more durable (drop proof) than HDDs, have no moving parts, no vibration, and use substantially less power than HDDs. We prefer SDD to HDD for routine operations but prefer HDD to SDD for data/drive backups.

What is SATA hard drive vs SSD?

A SATA hard drive uses a specific type of connector cable that attaches to the motherboard. An SSD may use the same kind of cable or may use a different (faster) cable depending on the hardware configuration of the laptop or desktop PC.

Is A 512 GB SSD enough?

Big enough depends on what you plan to store on the SSD. A typical 4K resolution movie is approximately 20-22GB. If you’re a movie collector, you’ll be out of space pretty quickly — ditto for graphics editors and photographers or electronic manga graphic novel collectors.

Overall, 500GB should be large enough to suit your needs, provided you have a secondary internal drive or secondary external drive where you can park your drive-hogging content.

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