Game downloads have never been bigger. Grand Theft Auto V nearly gave my broadband a coronary when it tried to chug down 60 gigabytes of the stuff. Aside from the time taken to download, there’s a whole other issue at play now - space. I’ve got a 1TB SSHD and I run out of space with alarming regularity. Which isn’t that surprising when you consider it can only fit 20 modern AAA games.
So it’s usually this time of year, around the Steam Winter Sale of course, that many of us consider upgrading our hard drives. The question is, which do you go for? Right now you’ve basically got a four-way choice, each with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. From the most affordable all the way up to eye-wateringly expensive, you’ve got Hard Drives, Solid State Drives, Solid State Hybrid Drives, and the new M.2 form factor.
Hard Drives (HDD)
Bog standard hard drives are the bread and butter of large-scale storage. You can pick up a 4TB (4000GB) internal hard drive for somewhere in the region of £110 right now. Cheaper can be found if you dig around, but you’re sacrificing quality. The name of these drives prefers to the spinning magnetic discs on which the data is stored. In terms of performance they are the slowest of the lot, but they are also the cheapest per gigabyte. Reliability can also be an issue for hard drives, with drops and shocks causing potential data loss.
Solid State Drives (SSD)
Then you’ve got Solid State Drives. SSDs are basically an enhanced version of the Flash-based memory used on USB sticks. Compared to HDD’s they are much, much faster, with lower power consumption and less prone to data loss. If you install anything to an SSD you’ll notice much quicker loading speeds, with operating systems booting almost instantly. The catch is of course cost. Prices are steadily dropping, but a 2TB (2000GB) SSD will cost you in the region of £500, which is close to ten times the cost per gigabyte of HDD.
Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD)
Straddling the two of these options are Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD). These comprise a larger HDD segment paired with a smaller SSD, located in the same component. The SSD part is usually very small, often 8GB, but it intelligently learns what your most accessed files are and automatically transfers them to the solid state storage. In theory this means faster loading times for Windows and your most used applications. Unfortunately this makes the SSD portion too small to install most games on, so you aren’t going to see any gaming benefits. What it does mean is that SSHDs are very cheap. In fact, they’re often pretty much the same price as their HDD counterparts. A 4TB SSHD can be had for £120, which is very comparable to a 4TB HDD.
Lastly then there’s the relatively new M.2 standard. SSDs are really fast, but they are still limited by the 6Gbps transfer speeds of their SATA III spec. M.2 drives are the answer. These sticks of storage plug straight into the PCI Express lanes on your motherboard, and they’re capable of even faster transfer speeds of up to 10Gb/s. If you want blistering performance then these are the answer, but such performance comes with a fairly hefty price tag, and of course requires space in your system to install it. Prices are coming down pretty fast on these M.2 sticks though, and it’s not uncommon to see a 250GB for around £75. That said, 500GB is the limit for commercially available M.2 these days, which just won’t be enough to satisfy most gamers’ needs.
With all that said and done then, which do you think is the best buy for those looking to pick up some new storage? Does the sheer capacity of HDDs make them a winner, or is speed the key? Would you opt for a combination of two or more different types? Let us know!