Laptop PC Storage Explained: HDD, SSD, Hybrid, eMMC

Laptop PC Storage - HDD, SSD, Hybrid HHDD - SSHD, eMMC

When buying a new laptop, 2-in-1, or tablet PC, storage space is one of the most important factors for your purchase decision. Your data storage choice very likely won’t only depend on performance and cost, but also on your storage space needs. In this article, we will explain the main differences between four storage types you can find in modern Windows-based laptops and other portable PCs – hard disk drives (HDD), solid state drives (SSD), hybrids (HHDD / SSHD), and eMMC storage. The article also contains a table of required space by various software and common user document and media files, so you can sum them up and calculate how much space you actually need.

Hard Disk Drive Storage (HDD)

Hard disk drives or HDDs are the traditional storage devices for personal computers. You can find them in the vast majority of notebooks, especially inexpensive ones. They are based on rotating magnetic platters and reading heads. HDDs are the slowest kind of storage in modern PCs. In today’s era of fast processors and large system memory amounts, hard drives are oftentimes a system performance bottleneck. In comparison to solid state drives, hybrid drives, and eMMC storage, they’re characterized by longer system boot-up times, slower application and file loading, and slower file copy / paste command execution. On the positive side, HDD is the cheapest kind of storage.

A rotational speed of platters of 5,400 rounds-per-minute is the standard one for laptop-use hard drives. HDDs in select notebooks spin at 7,200 rpm, making read / write speeds and access to data somewhat quicker. However, 7,200 rpm HDDs for laptops are a rarity on the market and don’t improve overall performance much. Besides rotational speed, size of an HDD’s cache which is usually either 8GB or 16MB, also affects performance.

Laptop hard drives come in the 2.5-inch form factor and are connected to the rest of the PC systems via the SATA III (6Gbps) interface, which replaced SATA II 3Gbps years ago. Some ultra-portable laptops from 2000’s used smaller 1.8” HDDs and microSATA interface, but these are abandoned nowadays in favor of even smaller internal storage devices like mSATA and M.2 SSD cards (described below).

Height or thickness of the 2.5” HDDs varies, depending on a model. When replacing a hard drive, height of a new drive shouldn’t exceed height provided by notebook’s storage bay in order to fit properly. As opposed to the most frequently used 9.5mm HDDs and bays, some thinner notebooks have bays supporting up to 7mm thick drives.

Since hard disk drives are mechanical devices and notebooks are meant to be carried around, manufacturers have to use enhanced HDD shock protection technologies to prevent data loses caused by accidental drops.

Common hard drive sizes in today’s laptops are 500GB, 750GB, and 1-Terabyte (around 1000GB).

Solid State Drive (SSD) Storage

Solid state drive-based storage is newer technology than the decades old hard drive storage. SSDs have no moving parts, since data is stored on Flash memory-based modules. Performance of different SSD models varies, but all available on the market are significantly faster than any laptop hard drive. For performance comparison of HDDs and SSDs, which are the most common types of storage in laptops on the market today, you can check out this test. Other advantages of solid state storage versus hard drives are completely quiet operation, lower power consumption, and lower chances of data loss due to accidental drops.

SSDs currently come in three form factors. The 2.5” SATA 3 SSD drives, usually with 7mm thickness, and smaller mSATA (mini-SATA) and M.2 card-like formats, which take up far less space in laptops’ casings. An mSATA SSD fits in the common PCIe mini card slots, which are often used for wireless network cards. However, a mini PCIe slot must support mSATA in order to work with mSATA SSDs. M.2 has a unique interface. A different interface, whether it’s SATA 3, older SATA 2, mSATA, or M.2, doesn’t significantly affect performance of the drives in real life.

While almost all notebooks have a 2.5” storage bay, those supporting only mSATA and M.2 are select thin-and-light computers. Some laptops, primarily high-performance business and gaming class machines, have multiple storage interfaces and bays. These usually combine an empty 2.5” HDD and mSATA or M.2 modules with operating system and programs installed on them to deliver both large storage space for user files and fast OS boot-up and program loading speeds.

Capacities of modern mobile PC-use solid state drives vary between 60GB and 1 Terabyte.

Hybrid Hard Drive / Solid State Drive Storage (HHDD or SSHD)

Laptop-use hybrid hard disk drives (HHDD), also known as solid state hybrid drives (SSHDs), combine hard drive and solid state storage in a single 2.5” device. They have all parts you can find in a classic HDD and include an SSD module on top of them. It’s hard to compare raw performance of HHDDs / SSHDs to HDDs, SSDs, and eMMC, because hybrids don’t load every stored file and installed program at a same speed. They boost loading only of software and files selected by their caching algorithms, which do calculations based on your common computer usage scenarios. Software and files you most frequently use, including those required for booting up the operating system itself, are stored on the SSD portion for faster loading. Accessing the rest of the data stored on the HDD portion isn’t quicker than on a comparable pure HDDs. Said differently, the most frequently used software and files on laptops with hybrid hard drives will load similarly quick as on systems with pure solid state drives, while the rest of content on HHDDs / SSHDs will have loading times similar to those on normal HDDs.

Common capacities of laptop-use hybrid storage devices are 500GB, 750GB and 1TB on the hard disk platters, plus either 8GB, 16GB or 32GB of SSD memory.

Embedded Multimedia Card (eMMC) Storage

Embedded Multimedia Card or eMMC is a more affordable and slower Flash-based storage than solid state drives. eMMC is usually found in smartphones and other consumer electronics devices, but is rarely used in personal computers. In everyday use, performance of eMMC storage is somewhere between speed of HDDs and SSDs. In the PC segment, you can find eMMC soldered onto motherboards of some budget-class notebooks, tablet PCs, and 2-in-1 computers.

eMMC capacity provided by these PCs is either 32GB or 64GB. Since the latest version of Windows 8 OS has a footprint of around 16GB, Windows computers with 32GB eMMC have a very limited space for third-party programs and users’ files. To make things easier, computer makers often bundle eMMC-based computers with some form of storage on a remote server, popularly known as cloud storage. As same as SSDs, eMMCs are power-efficient and completely quiet.

How Much Storage Space You Need

Here’s a list of storage space required by Windows operating system, some popular software and game titles, and common users’ files such as movies, songs, and documents.

Windows OS and Programs GB*
Windows 8.1 64-bit 20
Windows 8.1 32-bit 16
Microsoft Office 365 Personal 1.80
Chrome Web Browser (Two Versions are Stored in C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\ After Program Update) 0.40
Chrome’s Temporary Internet Files (After 1 Month of Web Surfing) 0.70
VLC Media Player 0.10
Adobe Photoshop CS6 1.00
Adobe Acrobat Reader 0.15
Paint.net Photo Editor 0.05
Skype for Desktop 0.05
Avast Security Software (with Virus Definitions Downloaded) 0.80
League of Legends Game 4.30
Minecraft Game (without Additional Mods and Texture Packs) 0.15
Counter Strike: Global Offensive Game 10.50
Skyrim Game 5.50
Battlefield 4 Game 42.00
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Game 49.00
User Files GB*
MP3 Song (5 minutes, 320Kbps) 0.01
Movie (1.5-Hour) Blu-Ray Rip Converted to 1080p H.264 File (File Size Depends on Selected Quality) 5.00
Movie (1.5-Hour) DVD Rip Converted to 720p H.264 File (File Size Depends on Selected Quality) 1.00
High-Res Picture Captured with DSLR Camera (File Size Depends on Selected Quality) 0.01
Five-Minute 1080p Video Clip Recorded with DSLR Camera (File Size Depends on Selected Quality) 0.45
Word Document with 5 Pages of Text and 2 Images 0.01
Excel Spreadsheet Document with 100 Rows and 3 Columns Populated + 1 Chart 0.01

*Values in the table are approximate.

You should keep in mind that some Windows features such as System Restore and Recycle Bin, as well as drivers for your hardware, require additional space.

Have a comment, question, or user review? Share it with us in the comment section below.

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Danijel is a tech blogger who founded Laptoping in 2006. His specialty are Windows-based mobile PCs, from tablets and ultraportables to full blown gaming laptops.

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35 comments
  1. hey, i forgot my alcatel’s 10 plus 2 in 1 password. every time i power the tablet on after the alcatel logo, it asks for a passcode and that last 8 digit lte keyboard imei doesnt work either. what should i do, am locked out here

  2. Great info. I only wish I had this information B 4 I BOUGHT MY HP Stream 360 with a maximum of 2G. I am now at almost 0 space and everyday something is needing more space. On top of it, I bought it to write my book (been working on it for 5 yrs). Help. Will an external hard drivehelp me?

      • Yes, you can connect an external hard drive to your laptop and use it for storing files. Also, installing a memory card into your laptop’s memory slot is a common way for expanding storage on notebooks like the HP Stream. It’s best to install programs on existing internal storage and store your documents and other files on an external HDD / SSD / memory card or Flash memory drive.

  3. Have a dell inspiring 14 with 32eMMC bought right before new year. What type hard drive can I use to get more storage for program data to load a rogram called Band in a box. Any hep will be appreciated

    • Do you know the exact model name of your Inspiron 14, like i3452 or something? Anyway, eMMC storage is soldered onto the motherboard and is not upgradeable. Laptops with eMMC rarely have an empty bay for hard drive. However, most of modern laptops have an SD or microSD card reader, in which you can put a memory card to expand internal storage.

    • I have read that eMMC (embedded multi-media chip) memory is soldered to the motherboard, so the answer would be “no” we cannot upgrade the eMMC “drive”. You can add micro-SD memory up to 128 GB on most devices, which will show up as a D: drive. You can add a terabyte or two of external hard drive (Seagate, WD, etc) via USB-3.0 but this would show up as a high letter drive like E: if you already have the SD drive installed. So, with an SD-based D: drive and an external HD-based E: drive, if you put all program data on the added drives, you might ask whether you will run out of room on the two data drives (D: and E:) and my answer is “you betcha”.

  4. Hello I was hoping to get some advice. I am looking to buy a laptop/notebook/tablet 2 in 1 and am stuck.
    What I will be using it for: typing, google docs/drive, word, web search, work(sales rep), email, adobe stuff and shopping.
    Needs: WiFi connect ability, to be convertible/transforming/2in1/fold backwards and some type of external memory port, 10-14″.
    Would like: usb port(s), PC not tablet, HDMI port.
    Prefer It Not to have Detachable key bord/screen
    Don’t want apple product
    $ BUDGET: low end but I Am looking on eBay and stealitback.com

    • Hi. Since you’ll be using it for typing, a good keyboard is necessary, I assume. The best one among 2-in-1 laptops I’ve used is the keyboard of the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga series, but these 2-in-1s (with band-back design) are somewhat expensive. If you find a good deal on the ThinkPad Yogas, they’re a really good choice. Other 2-in-1 PCs and laptops in general have very shallow keyboards… Also, all models in the ThinkPad Yoga series have IPS screen technology, which is necessary if you want to have a good picture in all viewing angles, and have excellent Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and SSD drives for great computing performance. All modern laptops have Wi-Fi and USB built-in and only rare models lack memory card slots for external memory cards. If you don’t find any ThinkPad Yoga model and really want an affordable device, I would recommend some of the Dell Inspiron 13 3000 2-in-1 PCs. They’re inexpensive and have good build quality. But make sure your chosen model has IPS and Intel Core “i” instead of “m”.

  5. I just bought a HP X2 210 hybrid laptop with windows 10 Pro OS, 4 GB ram and 64 GB EMMC Storage. It has 1 USB 3.0 and 1 USB 2.0 ports. I have an 1 TB external HDD. Can I use it with my new laptop?

    • If the ext. HDD has USB connectivity, you just need to plug the USB cable into the HP laptop. It should automatically recognize the HDD.

  6. Will this work for minecraft and roblox…Gift for a 8yr old…She will not be using it for anything else..
    Acer Aspire ES1-533-C3VD 15.6″ Laptop, Windows 10 Home, Intel Celeron N3350 Processor, 4GB RAM, 500GB Hard Drive

    Thanks

  7. I’m buying a laptop, confused. I’m looking at the Dell inspiron i5 17.3″ Intel core i7-7500U , 16 gram 2TB hard

    • I think you should buy toshiba chromebook cb35 c3350 if you are looking for a personal pc for daily purpose……
      But if you want one really tough then you should instead get a look through hp stream and spectre

  8. Can both be used at the same time (emmc & hdd) in the asus eee book?
    A bit confused on which laptop to buy, kindly recommend me some good ones , for daily use

  9. This is very useful information I could have used before buying my laptop: poor research (and too much excitement) on my part i guess, thank you very much to the writer.
    Want to know if i can expand/upgrade the memory on an HP Stream 11′ Laptop, with 32gb eMMC

    • You can expand your internal eMMC storage via the SD memory card slot on your laptop. If you own the latest Stream 11, it has a slot for microSD card format so you can by a microSD card and insert it.

      If you were asking for RAM memory upgrade, the Stream laptops don’t allow it.

  10. I have a 100S Lenovo laptop there have a 32GB emmc drive so I want to use external 500GB HDD drive I can use or not ? Kindly let me know

  11. Hi great info, i could do with some advice on how i should set up my laptop as i’m about to do a reinstall and the drives are a bit of a jumble.
    So a clean windows 10 install, steam and a media archive for photos and such. i have at the mo c: 256GB sandisk x110 msata (windows here) d: 1TB hitchi sata3 hdd (media storage) and e: 110GB ssd g: 935GB hdd (1TB wd black2 hybrid) steam and apps

  12. I have been trying to do my research as I am looking for a miniature laptop. I am so stuck. Every time I think it’s the right one, I will find a review site slating it.
    Any help would be immensely appreciated. I, basically looking at the Argos website, all reversible/detachable laptops under 12″. I won’t be gaming on it. But will use it for work, word, excel, Internet, some films etc.
    The ones I have whittled down either has 32gb solid state, 32gb eMMC, 500gb SATA, 500gb eMMC, or 500gb SATA III.
    My mind is bogged.

    • Try looking for the Asus E200AH, just purchased as is ideal for web browsing, e-mail and word. Very slim and light, 32gb emmc 2g ram, quad core processor, quiet and 14 hour battery life, looks good too got mine in gold. Windows 10 Home Brilliant.

  13. I frequently look for information in explaining thr difference between these two subjects. These are probably the best explaination for the difference between the eMMC & the SD cards.

  14. Very informative and descriptive. Thanks to the author. Old SD cards are still being used? I understand that eMMC are used in digital devices such as phones and cameras. When you say MicroSD, it is different from eMMC? How popular is eMMC memory cards compared to SSD

    thanks in advance,

  15. What i find interesting to know, is the difference between them when installing fresh new copy of OS, meaning usually formatting the disk/flash, either full formating, cleaning the disk, or simply deleting etc. Usually repeating those tasks may affect the performance.
    Thank you!

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