Trading Computer File Storage Trade-offs: SSD vs HDD

Next time you’re shopping for a trading computer, you are sure to come across the terms SSD and HDD. In this post, we’ll take a look at what these terms mean, along with how to decide between the two options. Both Solid State Drive (SSD) and Hard Disk Drive (HDD) are technologies for computer storage. SSD is the newer technology. HDD has been around for a while, and it’s cheaper. Let’s have a closer look at the two technologies so you can make an informed decision.

A Brief History of HDDs

Hard disk drive (HDD) technology has been around since the beginning of modern computers. In 1956, IBM shipped its RAMAC 305 system with only 5 MB of hard drive capacity. At the time, each megabyte of data cost $10,000. The first IBM PC to have a hard drive (in 1983) came with a 10 MB drive that cost less than $2000 (or $200 per MB). The entire computer cost $5,000. Of course, HDDs have come a long way. The technology has gotten better and cheaper. Today a 500 GB hard disk drive, standard in most computers, has 500,000 MB and costs around $50.

How HDDs Work

Hard disk drives use spinning magnetic disks or platters to read and write data. Platters in most off-the-shelf trading computers have 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM speed. (RPM stands for Revolutions Per Minute.) Faster speed means faster access to data. HDDs can have one or more platters. Each platter has an associated actuator. The tip of the actuator arm has a magnetic head that can read and write data to the magnetic platter. A way to visualize an HDD is like a vinyl (record) player.

HDD Pros

  • Proven technology that has been around for 50 years
  • Less expensive at around $0.03-per-gigabyte
  • Better security provisions for encrypting your data

HDD Cons

  • Due to the physical spinning of the platters, data reads and writes take longer (50-120 MB/s)
  • Mechanical parts of the device have a higher probability of failure
  • Heavier than newer technology
  • Power consumption is high
  • Spinning platter creates a noisy environment and produces heat

A Brief History of SSDs

You might be surprised to learn that SSDs had their origin in technologies developed in the 1950s. The first commercially available SSD (the Bulk Core by Dataram) measured 19” wide by almost 16” tall. A setup with 256 KB of storage sold for $9700 in 1977 (or around $38,000 per MB in 1977 dollars). The modern flash drive didn’t appear until 1995 and was so expensive it wasn’t used much outside of military and aeronautical applications. Reasonably priced consumer models came along in 2003. Today, a 500 GB SSD drive costs around $250.

How SSDs Work

Solid state drives are nonvolatile flash memory. They use microchip technology. There are no mechanical parts. Data is stored on floating gate transistors using electronic charge. SSDs read and write data using an embedded processor called a controller. Due to the absence of moving parts, access on an SSD drive is faster. The data is stored in rows and columns which are divided into blocks. The controller charges and discharges the floating gate transistors to store information. An easy way to visualize an SSD is an ice cube tray. Think of the filled slots as charged and empty slots as discharged transistors.

SSD Pros

  • Fast data access (200-550 MB/s) means faster boot-up and better performance
  • Consumes less power and produces less heat
  • No noise during operation
  • Lightweight

SSD Cons

  • More expensive at around $0.20-per-gigabyte
  • Most trading computers with SSD will come with less storage capability

Comparing SSD and HDD for Your Needs

From the above discussion, it’s evident that SSD gives you performance while HDD saves you money. For a trading computer you use regularly, SSD is a better choice. It will provide faster performance, so the investment is worth it. You can easily find computers for trading that have 120-250 GB SSD drives. However, if you are buying a computer to store large amounts of data (>1 TB), an HDD drive will probably make sense. Otherwise, you will end up paying a huge premium as SSD drives get pricier with larger sizes. The third option is to get a trading computer configured with both types of drive. Store your archival files on the larger HDD. Store files in current use on the faster SSD. It’s the best of both worlds.

Conclusion

Before deciding on which drive type is best for you, consider how you use your trading computer. For trading laptops, we definitely recommend a solid state drive. For trading desktops, you can get away with an HDD, but an SSD will give you better trading performance. Many traders like to have both types of drive on their desktop trading computer.
There are more trading computer tips like this in our buyer’s guide. Check out our “How To Buy a Trading Computer” e-book.
Remember, we are here to help with all your technology-related questions. If you think of additional questions about computer hardware or other questions, give me a call. My team and I are here to help. We’re happy to answer any of your questions about trading computers via phone: 800-387-5250. Photo by Jason Pinaster on pixabay.com.