Laptop Storage Drives Are All About Speed and Capacity

Storage SpaceAs you’ve noticed. Modern laptops are expanding the capacity of their storage drives. Part of the reason is because even casual users demand enough room for their music and photo collection.

Another reason is because storage drives have more to do with your laptop than just storage space. But when buying a laptop, how do you justify the amount of space you use with the amount of space you want?

Do you go for a laptop with a creaky old mechanical hard drive? Or do you opt for the speedier SSD, even though you’ll pay more for less space.

As with anything else in life, there are pros and cons to either storage solution. Let’s explore each one to discover the right choice for you and your new laptop.

Laptop Storage Drives


Storage Drives

The operating system, program utilities, and other files live on storage drives.

In the recent past, your storage solution was pretty much limited to HDDs (Hard Disk Drives). Unless of course you went for something like an Ultrabook, which come standard with SSDs (Solid-State Drives). And that meant forking over a lot more money, comparatively.

But how does the hard drive affect the performance of your laptop? Storage capacity isn’t the same thing as system memory. The amount of RAM you have effects how responsive your laptop will be. Whereas, the storage capacity determines how much information your laptop will be able to hold.

Taking the time to think about the storage drive for your laptop is important. Because even if all the other components are top of the line. The wrong drive can slow everyone else down.

In the previous guide. We talked about how the operating system uses the storage drive as an extension of system memory.

When RAM is maxed out. The operating system uses the storage drive like RAM in what’s referred to as Virtual Memory. In this scenario, the CPU is always waiting for the rest of the laptop to send more information for processing.

Both the size and speed of the storage drive affects overall laptop performance like this: While the larger capacity holds more information to send to the processor. The faster speed means it takes less time to send that data, thereby preventing system bottlenecks.


Mechanical Hard Drives

Mechanical Hard Drives

These are the most widely available storage drives for laptops. The technology was first introduced by IBM in 1956 making it the oldest type of non-volatile storage, which means that unlike RAM. You don’t lose your information once your laptop is powered off.

A hard disk drive has magnetically coated disks that spin fast while a read/write head on an arm accesses, records, and stores data.

You’ll see both HDDs and SSDs referred to by their capacity and rotational speed. Capacity refers to how much information they can hold. And speed is a reference to how quickly they can read and write data.

Most laptops that come with an HDD have a standard issue of 500 gigabytes to 1 terabyte of space. The fastest ones have a rotational speed of 7200rpm while most have a middling speed of just 5400rpm.

The more capacity, and faster the hard drive is. The more responsive your laptop will feel. The major reason why you would choose an HDD over and SSD is because you can store lots of data cheaply.

But, laptop manufacturers are moving away from these types of storage drives. Hard disk drives add bulk and weight to your laptop. And produce quite a bit of noticeable heat and noise.

Another reason why you may not want an HDD is because of the mechanical parts. Not only are they susceptible to wear and tear over time. But if you travel often. Handling your laptop in forceful manner or accidentally dropping it could result in the potential loss of data.


Solid-State Hard Drives

Solid State Drive

Physically, HDDs and SSDs look about the same. But the laptop market is steadily moving away from traditional, mechanical storage drives.

Some reasons why are because instead of spinning platters. SSDs use the same technology as flash drives like the ones in your camera or USB storage stick save information.

No moving mechanical part means no heat is generated. In addition, you get no noise, and less power consumption, which means a longer battery life. And they’re more likely to survive a drop, making them more durable than HDDs, which also means you’ll experience less crashes.

It’s a choice you’ll be happy with if you don’t require a laptop with a ton of internal storage space. SSDs offer 3x the speed of traditional hard drives, which means a much faster laptop overall.

If you’re used to computers with clunky mechanical hard drive. Your user experience will be greatly enhanced by how quickly programs are loaded. Files are saved. Data is accessed. And how quickly your laptop will boot-up.

Laptops with this storage solution are also significantly smaller and lighter. While buying a laptop, you’ll discover sub-$250 laptops that use eMMC memory. While it’s technically a kind of solid-state drive. It’s slower than a mechanical hard drive.

The major limiting factor for these types of storage drives is value. They cost more per gigabyte (GB) than standard HDDs with the same capacity. But you can find laptops with an SSD with 128GB, 256GB and even 512GB of storage space.


Solid-State Hybrid Drives

Still, perhaps the best option for you and the work you plan to do with your laptop. Is a storage solution that combines the large storage capacity of a hard disk drive with the performance of SSD. For a price only slightly higher than a mechanical hard disk drive.

It’s the lesser known, more luxurious storage solution adopted from the desktop world. It combines a small amount of flash memory used in SSDs (usually 8GB – 32GB) with a traditional HDD.

What you end up with is all the speed of SSD, with the mass storage of HDD in what is known in the laptop world as SSD cache.

The operating system stays responsive. And all the regularly used information is automatically moved to the faster flash memory so that it can be retrieved quickly.

If you’re a road warrior who requires lots of storage space and fast boot times to quickly fire off emails. This could be a viable option for you.

Be warned, however, that in practice. Sometimes manufacturers sometimes add an SSD that’s too small leaving little room for other programs. For this reason, we recommend a hybrid storage drive with at least a 128GB SSD.

Additionally, since you’re dealing with a multiple-drive storage solution. Your laptop may not be as small as if you were to go with one that only has an SSD.

Take a look at how Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT) uses this type of storage.



Next up, we conclude the Buying a Laptop series by taking a closer look at the keyboard and touchpad quality.

As with system memory. When it comes to storage drives. It makes the most sense to pay for the amount of storage space you need, initially. And add to that number as you need it in the future.

Is there anything you feel we forgot to include about storage drives? We want to hear from you. Please let us know in the comment section below.

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