How to Choose the Right-Sized Laptop SSD or Hard Drive

Whether you’re buying a laptop at the store or configuring one to order online, you need the best possible storage drive. Getting a speedy solid-state drive (SSD) rather than a creaky mechanical hard drive will make your entire computer much faster, but can you afford it — and will it have enough space for all of your files? Plus, even if you choose an SSD, not all of them are equally speedy.

Before you buy a laptop, it’s a good idea to consider the following questions about storage.

SSD or hard drive?

Equipping your laptop with an SSD is more important for overall performance than getting a faster processor, because even a slow SSD is three to four times faster than the speediest mechanical hard drive.

If you were to rip open a hard drive (don’t do it, because you’ll break it), you’d see a small metal arm that stretches out onto a round rotating platter. And just like an old-fashioned record player, the arm reads data (in lieu of sounds) off the spinning media. Whether your hard drive spins at 5,400 rotations per minute (rpm) or 7,200 rpm, it’s inherently limited in comparison with an SSD, which is a series of Flash memory chips that move data around inside the silicon. Even if you regularly defragment your hard drive in Windows 10, you won’t reap the speed benefits of an SSD.

The added performance of an SSD affects the things that matter most: launching apps, opening files, switching between tasks and booting. On a Dell Inspiron 15 5000, it took 31.9 seconds to open Microsoft Word on the hard drive but just 1.8 seconds with an SSD. On the same laptop, the Chrome browser launched in 14 seconds and Excel in 19.9 seconds with the regular hard drive, and only 1.1 and 1.8 seconds, respectively, with an SSD.

However, there’s no doubt that laptops with built-in SSDs are more expensive. The least expensive laptops we’ve seen with an SSD cost between $500 and $600, but many cost upwards of $1,000, with relatively small 256GB drives. Meanwhile, you can get a perfectly functional laptop with a traditional hard drive for under $400.

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