Solid State Drive or Hard Disk Drive? Typically hard drive choice is not terribly high on the list of critical components for someone who wants to build a gaming pc. The Hard Drive stores your information, but when you are in the game – for the most part – your hard drive speed won’t affect too many things. It certainly doesn’t affect your video quality or your ability to run high-end games. So usually when building a gaming computer all you want to look at is the quality of the Hard Drive – and as I like to preach, the manufacturer who makes it. However, we have entered the age of the Solid State Drive.
In a quick overview: Your traditional Hard Disk Drive is literally that – hard platters in which the data is physically stored within a case. Technology has advanced naturally on these to a certain point – quantity of information being put on one disk is ever increasing, but the speed of transfer can only get to a certain point. Solid State Drives store information on NAND Flash memory. This setup is similar to how information is handled in RAM – there are no spinning components, no needle that has to seek out the physical information. Input/output speed is INCREDIBLE by comparison.
So how does this fit into a typical gaming computer build? In terms of computer games, if you use an SSD over an HDD, games which load information from the “hard disk” will load that information much faster than vs an HDD. Games like World of Warcraft have much faster load times between zones (where local information is accessed). Once a local level is loaded, however, the benefits of the SSD over the HDD are moot – they have no effect on video quality or capability to play the game once information is loaded.
In terms of overall system performance, file operations will be completed much faster – so your overall experience will likely be smoother. I should say at this point that I don’t yet run an SSD in my system – so I don’t have first-hand experience with the speed improvements. However, going by Tom’s Hardware analysis we can see that “a file operation completes 85% faster on a low-end SSD than it does on a high-end hard drive.”
So deciding between an SSD and an HDD when building a gaming pc comes down to personal choice. SSDs will give you faster load times, which can greatly improve your computer using experience – however in terms of playing games, you may not see an improvement.
When choosing a drive, consider 3 GB/s vs 6 GB/s. If you don’t have a newer motherboard, then you probably don’t have a board that supports 6 GB/s. While you can still run the 6 GB/s HD/SSD on a 3 GB/s, it could be an inefficient use of money (unless the price was the same). Consider the Vertex 3s – they are 6 GB/s SSDs. This is one of the main reasons for their insanely high transfer rate. If you don’t have a 6 GB/s connection in your system, then spending $500+ on an SSD when you would get the same performance out of a $200 SSD doesn’t make any sense. The only situation I could see doing that is if you were upgrading piece by piece, and wanted to do the SSD first – with the intention of upgrading to P67 or Z68 or later in a couple months (even then, I would probably just wait for a price drop on the Vertex 3s). One should also take into account that, going by the Tom’s Hardware article, there is only a 3% difference is an improvement over an HDD when going from a lower end SSD to a higher end SSD (like the Vertex 3).
This is where your personal preference is going to play a large role. I can tell you that having an SSD will boost your load times, which will improve your overall computer “experience” – however from a general gaming perspective, you probably won’t notice a difference past starting the game up. It’s going to take some personal monetary valuation. On top of that, one can always upgrade in the future (and you will probably in most situations have an HDD alongside an SSD, so starting with a good quality 1-2 TB HDD is a good route.
Here are a few recommendations to get you started. They are based off a combination of benchmark analysis and consumer reviews. I can say that as far as hard drives go, you can’t go wrong with either of the three main manufacturers – Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi. I use Seagate in my main system and Hitachi in my network storage drives.
Consider taking a look at the Tom’s Hardware article for different sized SSDs. Any of the SSDs on the list would be an excellent choice when upgrading from HDD – considering the 80+% speed increase. You will want to keep in mind the total size – as you will want to be able to install your OS and programs…I don’t think I would go below 80 GB if you are building a gaming pc.