Whether you’re assembling a PC or shopping around for a pre-built computer, one often-overlooked component is the hard drive. Many people may only look at size (and even then, it’s easy to under-estimate how many gigabytes you’ll actually need), but that’s a mistake. Hard drive technology has come a long way in recent years, you want a PC that’s equipped with the latest capabilities — and in 2020, that pretty much means solid-state drives.
Solid-state drives, so-called for their lack of moving parts in contrast to traditional platter-based hard drives, have become common enough that they are standard in even cheap laptops now, and even those with demanding storage needs often use an SSD as their system drive in conjunction with a larger HDD for storage. Many portable hard drives are also SSDs thanks to their smaller size. Whatever your intended use may be, however, we’ve got all the best cheap SSDs right here with something to suit just about any need and budget:
Today’s best SSD deals
How to choose an SSD
Computer hardware keeps getting better, faster, and smaller, and recent advances in data storage technology have also been impressive (even if hard drives admittedly aren’t as exciting as CPUs and graphics cards). The introduction of solid-state drives, so-named due to their lack of moving parts in contrast to older hard drives which store data on rotating platters, has sparked a small revolution by offering fast and reliable storage that delivers far greater read/write speeds than the HDDs of yesteryear.
Solid-state drives store data on static chips in a fashion not dissimilar to USB flash drives. Standard internal SSDs typically follow the 2.5-inch form factor that has been used in laptops for a while now (in contrast to the bulkier 3.5-inch HDDs often found in desktop PC towers), and given the smaller size of solid-state drives and the fact they’re much cheaper than they once were, there are also plenty of portable USB external SSDs on the market today.
For internal SSDs, you have two form factors to consider: A more traditional 2.5-inch drive or an M.2 stick. The 2.5-inch SSDs have been commonly found in laptops for years, but M.2 SSDs are becoming more popular. M.2 SSDs look almost like sticks of RAM and slot directly onto a computer’s motherboard — no SATA cables necessary. Their smaller design makes them ideal for laptops, and many laptops now feature these drives (although desktop PC builders are also increasingly using them as well).
Solid-state drives provide several advantages over traditional platter-based hard drives, but there is one notable drawback: storage capacity. More specifically, SSDs are more expensive per gigabyte than HDDs, meaning you’ll pay more for a solid-state than you would for a similarly sized hard drive. That’s the basic trade-off for the SSD’s enhanced read/write speeds and reliability.
If you have more demanding storage needs, a cost-effective solution to this problem is to buy a smaller SSD for use as your system drive (your operating system and primary software will be installed here to take advantage of the faster speeds) and pairing it with a larger HDD for storing bigger files. Many laptops even come with both a solid-state system drive and a hard storage drive, and it goes without saying that you can easily do this with a desktop PC build as well.
Another thing you’ll want to consider when shopping around for SSD deals is the manufacturer’s warranty. Even without moving platters, SSDs are still active parts of your computer that are constantly reading and writing data, and while they’re typically more reliable than HDDs, they can still fail. That’s not something that any of us wants to happen (not least of all because it often involves losing saved work and other important data), but buying from a reputable brand that offers a good warranty is something that’s usually worth the little bit of extra money you’ll pay.
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