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|
|Battlefield 4 Game||42.00|
|Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Game||49.00|
|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.
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