Hard Drive vs. SSD Performance

HDD performance in a nutshell

Last week, we posted our new SSD test suite with some initial results. We included a few references to hard drive performance, and at the time that seemed sufficient, but let’s really put the hard drive vs. solid state performance debate to rest. We all know SSDs are faster, particularly at random accesses; hard drives, in contrast, offer massive amounts of storage at bottom-basement prices. For archiving large files and backups, hard drives can be great, and they’ve been around so long that they’re a proven technology. That doesn’t mean they don’t fail on occasion, but recovering data from a HDD (via a recovery service) tends to be about half to one-fourth the cost of recovering data from a failed SSD. You’ve all got a backup strategy in place, right? Good. Moving on….

Seagate 3TB HDD 1 Final

The venerable hard disk drive, or HDD, in 3TB capacity, circa 2012.

Even the worst of modern SSDs tend to smoke HDDs when it comes to performance metrics. And over time, HDDs are still prone to file fragmentation, which is why that well-worn copy of Windows 7 running off an HDD can take several minutes to boot up after a few years of use. Many people still use HDDs, however, probably in large part because they simply don’t know any better. So here's your chance: The next time someone asks you why they need to pay more money to get an SSD, point them at this article.

For the tests today, we’ve got the same collection of SSDs used in our OCZ Trion 100 480GB review. The Trion costs just $0.33 per GB—and the 960GB model goes even lower at less than $0.32 per GB—but neither one can hope to match the price of HDD storage. Our Seagate 3TB drive, for example, costs just $0.03 per GB. Yes, that’s a full order of magnitude more expensive (per GB).

Now, we don’t like to beat dead horses, but as we noted in the review, the Trion 100 just isn’t worth the asking price, considering faster SSDs can be had for roughly the same price. But this does bring up an interesting point: If the Trion 100 is the slowest “modern” SSD we’ve tested, how does it fare against a decent HDD? To settle the matter, we ran our storage suite on a Seagate ST3000DM001 3TB drive. Let’s not mince words: Some of the tests are painfully slow to run. It was so bad that on the random IO testing with AS SSD, we dropped back to a 1GB test instead of 10GB, and it still took over ten times as long to finish the test. There’s that order of magnitude business again; it’s likely to be a common refrain.

Our storage test bed consists of a modern Skylake processor in a Z170 motherboard. It doesn’t really affect performance with a hard drive, but we’re keeping things consistent. Here’s our test bed, and then we’ll get to the results of our testing.