Not so long ago, SSDs (Solid State Drives) were a niche and expensive drive technology only used by power users and gamers. However, the price per gigabyte of SSDs has dramatically fallen in recent years, and they have never been more accessible to amateur and professional music producers and audio engineers. At that same time, hard disk drives (HDDs) – often called mechanical hard drives – have gone from being the de-facto standard to being shunned out of the market for their sluggishness.
Should I use an SSD or HDD for audio engineering and music production? The faster read and write speeds of solid-state drives (SSDs) offer producers and audio engineers improved performance in their DAWs. SSDs offer quicker load times than HDDs for sample libraries, VSTs and recordings. SSDs are also more reliable than HDDs, helping to keep data and projects safe.
In this article, we'll explore the differences between each storage drive technology and explain why an SSD might be a better investment for your music production computer.
Related article: Top 11 Best External Hard Drive Brands For Music/Audio
What Is An HDD?
A hard disk drive or HDD is a storage drive that uses a mechanical, electromagnetic disk to store data. A mechanical hard drive uses a physical actuator arm to read data stored on this disk – much like a needle reads the music on a vinyl record.
An HDD takes longer to read or write data because it has to wait until the appropriate sector rotates around to where the actuator arm can reach it. The transfer speeds of HDDs are physically limited by the speed of their components.
Therefore, a mechanical hard drive with a speed of 7200rpm (rotations per minute) will have average sequential read/write speeds of 160MB/s (megabytes per second). However, HDDs perform poorly in random reads and writes – often giving users speeds of 1-2MB/s.
Also, as an HDD uses moving parts and a fragile disk, mechanical hard drives are not overly durable. They are prone to hard drive failure – often leading to costly data losses. This also means these drives are not suitable for portable devices like laptops. One drop of a hard drive or even a hard knock could cause irreversible damage to it and further data loss.
However, HDDs typically have much higher capacities than SSDs. It's possible to find 6TB (terabyte), 8TB or even 10TB. Although, in recent years, SSDs have caught up, and manufacturers are increasingly offering high-capacity products.
What Is An SSD?
On the other hand, an SSD is a flash storage method that stores memory on a computer chip called NAND flash memory. SSDs are much faster than HDDs. The first consumer SSDs used the same SATA III connector as hard drives – and gave users speeds of up to 550MB/s.
However, a recent evolution of SSD technology now uses PCIe connectors (similar to the connections graphics cards and network cards have to your PC's motherboard). This offers lightning-fast read/write speeds of 2000MB/s.
As there are no moving parts in an SSD, SSDs are far more durable and reliable than HDDs.
How SSDs Overtook The Humble Mechanical Hard Drive
When SSDs were first released into the consumer market, most of the music production industry was using Hard Disk Drives (HDD). This status-quo remained for quite some time.
This was mainly due to:
- The high capacity of HDDs, as compared to the (at the time) extremely small SSDs.
- The high price premium of SSDs at the time.
Capacity is a key issue for production PCs, as VST libraries, samples and project files take up a lot of space. For example, an install of Omniverse can take up an eye-watering 61GB! Early consumer SSDs had typical capacities of 128GB and 256GB – so you can see how quickly that would be filled up.
Furthermore, a lot of storage space is needed for backups – as past projects may need to be accessed at a moment's notice.
However, as the SSD market matured, these two advantages began to fizzle away.
Nowadays, you'll be able to find SSDs on the market with capacities of up to 4TB, like the Samsung QVO 870 4TB internal SSD. No longer do HDDs have such a huge storage space advantage over their solid-state competitors.
Samsung is featured in a few top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Secondly, the price of SSDs has plummeted as the technology left its infancy. In 2015, a 1TB SSD was around $350 – compared to a $50 recommended retail price for most 1TB HDDs. Now, you can easily find a 1TB SSD for $100.
The speed and reliability advantages of SSDs have become increasingly hard to ignore over HDDs. Now is the time to ditch the ageing mechanical standard.
SSD Vs. HDD For Music Production
In the vast majority of uses in the studio, SSDs are far more suitable. Music production often involves many quick actions like opening up projects, accessing samples and writing data to your ‘disk'. All of these actions would be sluggish on an HDD.
There is one use that SSDs remain a little overkill for, and that's creating backups and archiving music and projects. Mechanical hard drives are still the best mass storage device for an archive storage medium. If the operating system won't use the drive, and you can leave your system to transfer to the drive for a while, there's no need to go SSD for your archives.
The price per GB is still significantly less for HDDs than for SSDs. However, it isn't as dramatic of a gap as it used to be a few short years ago.
In conclusion, you should be using an SSD for your music production PC. It will speed up your production workflow, allow you to enjoy faster boot times, load up your DAW quicker and access sample libraries instantly. SSDs are likely to earn back their extra cost in improved productivity in the long run.
Internal Vs. External Hard Drive For Music Production
When looking for an upgraded hard drive or simply more storage, another question beyond SSD versus HDD worth asking is, “should my hard drive be internal or external?”
Internal hard drives are installed directly into the computer, while external hard drives are remote storage devices that can easily connect and disconnect from different computers.
The debate between internal and external hard drives ties into our previous discussion on speed and storage.
HDDs are often preferred for backups and file storage thanks to their high storage to price ratios. These hard drives also benefit from being external so that the stored information can be physically stored outside the computer and even physically transported between computers.
SSDs are better suited to file access and speed (a necessity for modern DAWs, sample libraries and plugins). A direct installation of these hard drives often enhances such benefits as the libraries can be stored and accessed quickly from an installed disk.
So to recap, internal SSDs are often preferred for the act of music production itself (running and accessing samples, libraries, virtual instruments, plugins, etc.). In contrast, external HDDs are often preferred for backups and storage!
Have any thoughts, questions or concerns? I invite you to add them to the comment section below! I'd love to hear your insights and inquiries and will do my best to add to the conversation. Thanks!
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