Which Storage Drive Should I Buy?
This is one of the most common questions I see asked in Facebook composer groups and I hope to shed some light on the options available and help you make a more informed choice.
Short answer: For samples, an SSD (if it will be internal NVMe) is optimal, though an HDD at at least 7200 rpm is useable.
Storage can be internal or external. Internal storage is housed within the case of your computer. Internal and external storage can both be solid state, hard disk, or a hybrid. However, external storage can be slower than some forms of internal. The connection (SATA, Thunderbolt, etc) and the form factor will be determining that. Many people typically assume an SSD is the best option for all things as it is the fastest, however, understanding the different types of drives can help you make an informed decision and not waste money on things you don’t necessarily need. Hopefully this post will show you why this isn’t always the case.
Hard Disk Drives are composed of a spinning disk that physically stores the data. These are typically slower than SSDs, but also cheaper. HDDs are great for long term storage of items such as photos, videos, documents and personal data. HDDs also contain moving parts, and are more likely to break or fail over time. HDDs are typically housed in drive bays inside the computer case. When choosing an HDD, make sure to consider its speed. Speed is labeled by it’s RPM (revolutions per minute). A higher read speed will be a faster drive. For loading samples and sessions, a speed of at least 7200rpm is essential. For long-term storage, a slower speed will do.
Solid State Drives come in three forms (internally). They can be a 1.8 inch or 2.5 inch thick SATA drive, which transfers data to the motherboard over SATA cables (or PCIe!). The third form factor is an M.2 drive. M.2’s can be SATA or NVMe (Non-volatile Memory), and they are plugged directly into the motherboard via a pre-designated M.2 drive, or an PCIe expansion card. NVMe is currently (in the year 2021) about 6x faster than SATA, and if your motherboard does not natively support it, you may be able to incorporate M.2 NVMe drives via a PCIe expansion card.
An M.2 NVMe SSD is the fastest solid state drive type currently. This is the best place to store anything that needs to be accessed quickly, like your operating system or your sample libraries. SSDs however, due to their expensiveness, are not the usually the best option for longterm storage.* They are much more expensive than HDDs, and have a limited number of write cycles that can be performed before it starts to degrade. This means that storing samples on it is a good idea, but constantly writing new data and erasing it (like hourly backups of huge file systems to an SSD) are less optimal.
*This is becoming less and less of a case now, as the price of SSD’s are coming down every year and with the lower failure rate the extra cost may be justifiable for you. It’s just something to consider when you think about what works best for your needs.
Externally, SSDs are less varied. There is not much of an external standard for SSDs, however. The biggest thing to consider is the connection to your laptop (make sure it’s the fastest your computer can support*) and the storage capacity. There are some other small differences such as the controller chips on the SSDs, but typically the are not a specific/determining factor in choosing SSDs - just be sure to read performance reviews when looking at your option and that should be fine.
*As of this post, the fastest ports that are on most recent computers are USB 3.2 or thunderbolt 2 with transfer rates of 20GB/s (with the next generation doubling that to 40GB/s).
Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD) have a small amount of SSD storage on them, with the bulk portion of the drive behind HDD. Typically these are used in budget builds to have a speedy OS boot up, with cheap HDD storage capacity. There is also a great benefit to hybrid drives being that it is one drive as opposed to multiple - so in the context of an older laptop that has a removable hard drive, this may be a good replacement to help speed up boot times.
If you are building a computer for music production, many users also have a combination of HDDs and SSDs - you don’t need to just stick with one, and choosing your storage drives based on your needs may better than just going with an SSD by default.
With any of these, failure is inevitable. A good back up system is essential to preventing any data loss. I will be looking at this soon in an upcoming post.