Solid State Drives & Hard Disk Drives
SSDs are similar to the flash memory drives you may use to store photos on your phone and camera or the thumb drive you may use for backups or portable storage. However, they are designed to be much faster and to plug in to your computer just like an old fashioned hard disk drive (HDD). HDDs on the other hand, are actually mechanical devices that are orders of magnitude slower than anything else on a PC (with the exception of optical disk drives)! HDDs use magnetic heads and platters to transfer data in and out of memory. SSDs have no moving parts and are more akin to slower (and cheaper!) RAM than they are to HDDs in function.
If however, you don’t care about those details, then simply keep this in mind: if you would like to reduce bottlenecks in your system while at the same time greatly decreasing game load times then a solid state drive (SSD) is your solution! If, on the other hand, you would like to store oodles of files then a hard disk drive (HDD) is the storage solution for you! If you’d like to do both, then one or more of each is the way to go!
Note: Don’t get sucked into the hybrid drives or SSD caching non-solutions. Benchmarking has shown these are not the way to go if you want the benefits of both (unfortunately)!
If you haven’t already heard or noticed, last November there was severe flooding in Thailand which has had a major impact on the availability of HDDs. Prices are still high, and may remain so for another year or more. As such, it’s not a great time to invest in a large RAID array, but fortunately SSDs haven’t been impacted and they are still steadily trending downwards in price (see my tools section towards the start of the guide, Camel Camel Camel can be your friend here)!
Note: If you absolutely need to get a HDD now, do so, but just be aware that you will be paying much more than you would have just a few short months ago (and your selection is going to be much lower).
In terms of performance, bigger SSD’s of the same make and model will essentially always be faster than the smaller ones. This doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid the 60 GB size range, but do keep this in mind. The 120 GB range is a good size to aim at in my opinion and you can easily add another one in the future, configure it in RAID 0 and have double the storage and almost exactly double the speed! Win win!
On Storage Size
Speaking of 120 GB SSDs, if you plan to dual boot Windows 7 x64 and Ubuntu x64 a 120 GB SSD may be really pushing it in terms of having enough room for your favorite games and applications. Windows 7 x64 alone takes an enormous amount of space up on a drive (~25-30 GiB when all’s said and done), then add on Ubuntu at about 5-6 GiB, and all your games and applications and you’ll quickly be out of available space!
As an alternative, if you’re a power user, Windows Server 2008 R2 can take much less space by default as it installs much less and you can avoid much of the (hopefully) unneeded garbage programs like Movie Maker, Windows Media Center, and many others. Again however, this is not something a novice user is going to want to mess around with (or be able to).
So, if you are a novice user (or just don’t want to mess around with Server 2008 R2 no matter what your skill level) and need to dual boot, your only real option is going to be increasing your storage or dealing with a fairly tight storage budget. One other option would be to put Windows 7 and Ubuntu on a HDD and only put your games on the SSD. A few windows libraries may load a bit slower (and of course Windows will boot slower), but the large, memory intensive files from the games will still load in a snap!
What’s in a Name?
Also, while we’re on the topic of storage size, we need to discuss briefly the differences between bits (b) versus bytes (B) and gigabytes (GB) versus gibibytes (GiB). Bits and bytes are simple; there are eight bits in a byte. As an example of this, your Internet connection is likely calculated in bits per second (Mb/s or Mbps) while anything you download is likely calculated in bytes (MB or MiB). Simple enough, eh?
Gigabytes versus Gibibytes on the other hand is a bit more complex. You’ve likely heard Kilo, Mega, Giga, and Tera-bytes all over the place, chances are you’ve never heard of Kibi, Mebi, Gibi, and Tebi-bytes at all though, even though these are the sizes you’re actually using on a daily basis. What you probably think of as a Gigabyte is actually a Gibibyte.
If you’ve ever bought a hard drive it will say something like 120 GB on it. This is accurate, it will store exactly 120 Gigabytes of data. However, when you get it home and get it installed in your system you’ve likely noticed that the available space to you is a bit (or even a lot) less. In our example of 120 Gigabytes (GB), you would actually have about 111.75 Gibibytes (GiB) available to you. Your computer may tell you you have 112 GB but what it actually means is 112 GiB.
It’s this misuse of terminology that has caused this confusion. For the when and why and the mathematics behind the naming conventions you can read more on Wikipedia. For right now though we just need to have a base understanding of the differences because from here on out when I use GB versus GiB and TB versus TiB you may need to differentiate between the two to properly understand what I’m referring to (you can also go back and note that I’ve been using this convention all along and that I also use it elsewhere on my site–if you’re super bored)!
One GiB is bigger than one GB, and one TiB is bigger than one TB. If nothing else, that’s the key thing to take away here! So, when you get that 120 GB SSD for your fancy new computer, you’ll now know you’ll only have about 112 GiB to actually install your OS and games on!
So, now that we are hopefully all on the same page with SSDs versus HDDs and GiB versus GB we can move on to the next page where I’ll give my suggestions for both SSDs and HDDs!