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What is the difference between SSD and SATA hard drives?

Hard drives are what a computer uses to store data. The two main hard drive types in use today for most computers are Solid State Drives, or SSD, and Serial ATA drives, or SATA. For the last 10 years, most computers were equipped with SATA drives, but the data storage landscape is changing.

SATA is a format that both traditional and hard disk drives use to send data to the processor. The speeds of SATA have risen steadily over the years, and the most common hard drive uses SATA 3.0, which provides the ability to transfer 6 gigabytes per second.

Standard SATA hard drives use a series of platters or discs which spin at high speeds while an arm with a head moves along the discs to either read or write data. When the SATA drive stores information, it magnetizes blocks on the platters in a particular pattern. However, these blocks can become scattered as new data is moved back and forth. Performing defragmentation of a hard drive moves these blocks back into an orderly pattern.

SSD drives do not have spinning platters but instead use flash memory. Flash memory is a staple of many electronic devices, including cell phones, digital cameras and tablets. These drives store data electronically instead of magnetically, eliminating the need for an arm to scan platters to search for information. The result of this is data transfer speeds far higher than what can be achieved with traditional SATA drives.

At this time, standard SATA drives cost less and can store far more data than SSD drives. However, the gap in price is slowly narrowing. While it is possible to get a 3 terabyte traditional SATA drive for under $100, a 1 terabyte SSD drive will cost over $400. These drives can usually be purchased through eBay as well for a fairly reasonable price.

Some manufacturers have tried to have the best of both worlds by creating hybrid drives. A hybrid drive has a traditional drive with a small memory SSD drive attached. This allows users to allocate startup or other commonly performed tasks to the faster but smaller SSD drive while still using the traditional drive for large storage needs.

Which type of drive to use depends a great deal on the user. Those who want massive storage and use large files will probably want the traditional drive, while those looking for speed without enormous storage will want the SSD drive.

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