Choosing the best storage device for your gaming needs can be quite tricky with all the different storage devices available on the market. Apart from the vast variety, you also have to consider the types of storage devices and your budget, of course. So, before answering the famous question of what the best hard drive for gaming is, we have to take a look at all different types of computer storage devices and find what is the best one for each one of you.
The 3 types of storage devices explained
To start things off, there are 3 types of storage devices:
1. Traditional Hard Drives (HDD)
2. Solid State Drives (SSD)
3. NVMe Solid State Drives
Hard Drives (HDD)
HDD’s are the traditional drives that can be found in every older computer. But even high-end computers today still use hard drives to store significant amounts of data since they are cheap and you can see variants ranging from 1 TB of storage up to 10 TB. Because of their reduced price, hard drives are also the slowest storage devices as their reading and writing speeds are about 5x times slower than SSDs which we will be covering below. The writing and reading speeds range from 80 to 160 MB/s on average. Thus, if you were to transfer 1 GB of files, it would take you around 10-20 seconds to complete the transfer, assuming that those files are not in 4K.
Due to their slow transfer speeds, hard drives are not ideal for being used as your main Windows drive. You can get away with storing your Windows on an HDD drive, but you would be compensated with slow boot times. And if patience is not one of your attributes, you will get annoyed and regret not having spent some extra money to get an SSD, which are incredibly cheap at the time. The way hard drives work is with rotations per minute (rpm). Hard drives usually come in two rotation speeds: 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm. It is evident that the higher the rotation speed, the quicker the hard drive can access the information you are searching for.
The main drawback of higher rpm hard drives is noise. The more they rotate, the more sound they produce. So if a silent computer is a priority to you, getting a 5400 rpm drive to store your data, might be the preferable choice. On the flipside, do not expect that much of a difference in operating volume. Hard Drives are also way less power efficient than SSDs and NVMe drives, which is expectable, considering that hard drives are much older than SSDs and NVMe SSDs.
Now, onto reading and writing speeds. Hard drives work by spinning around at high-speed and a read-write arm swing access the information stored on different parts of the magnetic platter. When you are trying to access data stored on your hard drive, “reading speed” determines how fast this information can be accessed. When you are storing data on your computer, you are reliant on “writing speed” to get the work done. The higher the reading and writing speeds, the quicker the information can be processed and stored.
That is why older laptops, for example, get “revived” when the hard drive is being replaced with a solid state drive. You might have the fastest processor and RAM on the market, but if you rely on a hard drive for your Windows experience, you will still have to put up with a slow computer since all information is stored and processed through the slow hard drive. In 2019, an SSD is essential for any desktop PC or laptop.
A significant drawback of Hard Drives is that the moving parts wear out over-time. Because hard drives rely on rotations to operate, the different mechanical parts can give up after an extensive period. Keep that in mind when storing sensitive data and information on hard drives and never buy low-quality ones. Brands you should look out for when looking for a quality HDD are Toshiba, Western Digital and Seagate.
Solid State Drives (SSD)
What is the main differentiating factor between HDDs and SSDs? Besides the fact that they are different drives under the hood, the main difference is speed, without a doubt. A quality solid state drive should come with 500+ MB/s reading and writing speeds. If that sounds not that impressive to you, keep in mind that SSDs are on average five times faster than hard drives and that translates to a much more fluent and snappier Windows experience. Even data stored on SSD’s can be accessed much quicker and the transfer of data gets completed faster. To demonstrate you the difference between Windows boot times with a hard drive and solid state drive, check out the video below:
Instead of accessing information based on rotations per minute, solid state drives have much more in common with USB drives and rely on semiconductor chips to store your data. NAND flash memory is what is being used containing multiple transistors wired in a series. The transistor density is what is responsible for reading and writing information. 3D NAND memory was created by Samsung and is widely used in all SSD drives today. 3D NAND replaced 2D NAND, firstly introduced in 1987 by Toshiba. This flash technology is not only being used in solid-state drives but in smartphones and tablets, too.
On the surface, Hard Drives and Solid-State Drives might look similar, but things seem way different under the hood. The only reason why those two storage devices have the same shape and size is that of interchangeability. Changing out an HDD for an SSD is easy as pie. Since they come in similar form factors (3,5″ for desktops and 2,5″ for laptops), the only things needed are a SATA power cable, a SATA data cable and the drive itself along with cloning software to move your current Windows configuration from one drive to the other. You can always wipe out your Windows and start fresh if you do not want to clone your software. I will be covering how cloning is done correctly in another post.
SSDs used to be expensive but their cost has come down dramatically since 2017. There are many great companies offering quality SSDs, but Samsung is your best choice as their drives have great reading and writing speeds, come with at least a 5-year warranty and are of great quality in general. In case you want to check out some great SSDs for your desktop or laptop, check out my SSD recommendations, at this link.
To give you an example of reading and writing speeds, the Samsung 860 comes in two variants, the Evo and the Pro. The main difference is the warranty as the Evo comes with a 5-year warranty and the Pro with a 10-year warranty. The pro also packs a small bump in reading and writing speeds.
The 860 Pro supports up to 560 MBps read and 530 MBps write speeds.
The 860 Evo support up to 550 MBps read and 520 MBps write speeds.
These numbers mean the world when compared to traditional hard drives, as the Windows boot and application load times reduce significantly. With the current prices of SSDs, it would be a mistake not to allocate part of your budget to include an SSD in your build. HDDs are still useful, though, but only as storage devices for videos, photos, and music. For budget-oriented PC builders, a combination of an SSD for Windows and essential programs and a 1TB hard drive for all your other data is a good choice. If your storage needs are more prominent, replacing the 1 TB hard drive with a 2TB HDD will not break the bank. Of course, if you can get rid of HDDs entirely and replace them with SSDs and get an NVMe SSD for your Windows, that would be the ultimate choice, but it is not a budget option, for sure.
Now let us talk about the latest, fastest and cutting-edge storage technology, NVMe SSDs.
NVMe Solid-State Drives
With HDDs and SSDs out of the way, let us focus on NVMe Solid-State Drives, the future of data storage. While SSDs were speedy compared to traditional hard drives, it was apparent that the next-generation leap needed to be made taking into consideration the age of information we are living in. We are used to being bombarded with a constant stream of information and this information has to be delivered almost instantly. While CPUs and GPUs are evolving rapidly, the only real bottleneck to blazingly fast PC speeds was storage, which was still relying on the traditional 3,5″ and 2,5″ form factor of hard drives even after making the jump to SSDs.
Companies achieved to skyrocket reading and writing speeds by allowing this cutting-edge storage device to connect to the PCIe slot on the motherboard directly. NVMe drives no longer imitate the 3,5″ or 2,5″ form factor introduced by hard drives six decades ago, but are on par with the latest CPUs, GPUs, and RAM operating directly from the motherboard. NVMe drives do not require cables anymore and do not need any extra space since motherboards include slots to host NVMe drives.
To give you an example of the speeds we are talking about, the latest 970 Evo operates at a blazingly fast 3,500 MB/s reading speed and 2,500 MB/s writing speed. However, not all NVMe drives are faster than SSDs. Before buying one, you always have to check the advertised reading and writing speeds as many SSDs also come in NVMe variants with the only change being the form factor. While reading and writing speeds make a tremendous difference when transferring a considerable amount of files, Windows and game boot times are almost unaffected. But how is that possible? Why do boot times decrease when going from 100 MB/s to 500 MB/s and remain unaffected when speeds get quintupled? That is because your PC cannot take advantage of that extra speed when booting Windows.
An SSD requires about 10-20 seconds to boot into Windows from the time you push the power button, taking into account your other PC parts as well like the processor. Unfortunately, reducing booting times, even more, is almost impossible when we are looking at a 10 to 20-second window. The advantages of NVMe drives can be observed when dealing with more substantial amounts of files.
Tech YES City has made a video comparing boot and data transfer times of Hard Drives, Solid-State Drives and NVMe SSD drives. You can check out the results for yourself at the video below:
With prices of NVMe SSDs reduced significantly, getting one is not a luxury anymore. Should you be able to find one at a lucrative price point, it is worth buying even if it costs a few bucks more than an SSD. Even if you can not take advantage of the better boot times and do not move a large number of files, not having to worry about cable management and directly connecting your drive to the motherboard makes for a much cleaner look and you will have also invested in the future. On the contrary, if you have a strict budget and only want to play games, an NVMe is not the smartest choice if you can not find one at a reasonable price.
Ultimately, what is the best hard drive for gaming?
To sum things up for you, I have made a list of 5 possible computer storage combinations including Hard Drives, Solid-State Drives, and NVMe SSD Drives for people with different storage needs:
250 GB NVMe SSD + 1 or 2 TB HDD, for storing and transferring large amounts of files.
250 GB/500 NVMe SSD + 1 TB/2 TB SSD if budget is not an issue and you want the best of the best.
1 TB NVMe SSD + 10 TB HDD if you are a professional, processing and storing 4K files.
It is a fact that there are plenty of computer storage devices to choose from. Even older HDDs still have their use cases in 2019, mainly for storing files as they are incredibly cheap and reliant. SSDs are the norm nowadays with most laptop manufacturers offering a Solid-State drive even on more affordable laptops. High-end laptops always come with an SSD and may also pack a second HDD for extra storage. Whether you are spending time on a desktop or laptop, an SSD is an absolute necessity nowadays. NVMe SSDs used to be considered a luxury, but even those are quite affordable and are worth buying over an SSD for reasons like ease of installation (no cable management), way better writing and reading speeds positively impacting data transfer times.
Although buying an NVMe just for a better Windows experience is not worth it if you can not find one at a good price point. Windows boot times remain unaffected when compared to SSDs, but choosing an NVMe SSD will undeniably be a wise investment for the future when combined with either an SSD or HDD for extra storage capacity.
If you liked my post, I would appreciate it if you could leave me a comment and I will make sure to answer as quickly as possible. What storage device do you have installed? Are you planning on upgrading to either an SSD or NVMe SSD?
Hi, everyone, my name is John Bochtis and I share a genuine passion for PC hardware and games. I have helped many people set up and fix their PCs and I have established this website to help out as many people as I can in my respective niche. Check out my websites for news, reviews, top 10 lists and lots of content around computer hardware and games. I hope to see you around!