Does a Gaming Computer Need an SSD? Everything You Need To Know

Hardware

When it comes to your gaming PC’s storage, you ideally want something small and compact that can quickly access and load files for all of your gaming needs. SSDs are becoming more common over standard HDDs, but are they worth their rapidly growing hype?

A gaming laptop needs a solid-state drive (SSD), seeing that it is preferable to a standard hard disk drive (HDD). SSDs load programs and access files faster are also more efficient, reliable, and quieter than HDDs. Despite being more expensive with less storage capacity.

Let’s break down what an SSD is, along with its capabilities compared to an HDD, and help you understand why this new alternative to the usual hard drive is indeed a better option for gamers. You might even end up opting to purchase a dual-storage system that uses both.

What is an SSD?

various different types of SSDs

A solid-state drive is a form of electronic storage that is becoming increasingly popular amongst PC manufacturers thanks to its sturdy yet compact design and increased speed and efficiency compared to traditional hard disk drives.

Until fairly recently, hard disk drives were considered the standard for computer storage. Hard disk drives, or HDDs, are bulky, fragile devices composed of several layers of magnetic disks.

The disks constantly spin while an attached actuator arm moves around and accesses data stored on them. They are manufactured in two standard sizes – 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) and 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) – and can be quite heavy.

In comparison, solid-state drives are small, sturdy, and have no moving parts. They use flash-based memory and are made up of systems of tiny circuits to store data, so they take up much less space inside your computer (or outside if you’re using an external SSD). SSDs are produced in just one standard size: 2.5 inches (6.35 cm).

What are the benefits of using an SSD for a gaming computer?

physical drive size comparison between standard mount drives and an m.2

As we briefly mentioned above, SSDs are quickly becoming more common than HDDs, particularly in gaming PCs. Let’s break down the primary reasons why solid-state drives have become so popular over the past decade or so.

  • SSDs are smaller than HDDs. Their modern, streamlined design is smaller in physical size than standard hard disk drives at a mere 2.5 inches (6.35 cm). M.2 NVME SSDs are even smaller again and offer even greater performance compared to a SATA interface. SSDs don’t need rotating magnetic disks or a metal arm to shuffle the data around; they’re made up of just one small, stationary part. They also weigh significantly less than hard disk drives, so you won’t be adding another heavy part to weigh down an already heavy PC tower.
  • SSDs have faster boot and load times. Solid-state drives can access your data faster than hard disk drives across the board. HDDs have to constantly move and reposition their disks and arm while reading and writing, whereas SSDs have no moving parts and can load files and boot programs almost instantly.
  • SSDs make less noise. Say goodbye to the perpetual spinning and buzzing of your hard disk drive because solid-state drives are completely silent. Again, this mostly has to do with the fact that SSDs aren’t made up of multiple mechanical parts that constantly interact. They also don’t vibrate as HDDs do for this reason.
  • SSDs are more sturdy. Yet another benefit of the solid-state drive’s small size and lack of separate, breakable parts is its durability. HDDs are incredibly prone to damage from drops and fall since they consist of multiple disks and a flimsy actuator arm that can bump up against each other and corrupt your precious data. SSDs can withstand far more damage thanks to their sleek yet substantial design.
  • SSDs have fewer issues with data fragmentation. HDDs store data less efficiently than SSDs because, as their storage fills up, they have to break up files into fragments and move them around the disk platter, meaning your data isn’t being stored together in one logical place as it would be on an SSD. The HDD’s drive head has to search around to find parts of the entire file, affecting a large game with many GBs of data. 
  • SSDs won’t overheat your computer. The constant spinning, moving, and vibrating that HDDs produce can cause your computer to overheat during lengthy gaming sessions. Many modern PC games use up enormous chunks of storage. SSDs can quickly access and load these games’ many files without sending your computer’s cooling fans into overdrive as an HDD would.
  • SSDs use less power. Even though the power drain isn’t quite as noticeable on a desktop gaming computer as it would be on a gaming laptop, HDDs still use a substantial amount of power to access your data. Using an SSD to store your data is more energy-efficient than using an HDD and can even help lower the cost of your electric bill each month.

Overall, it’s easy to see why gaming enthusiasts today prefer SSDs and why the HDD is slowly becoming obsolete. However, HDDs still have their proponents, and many people with gaming PCs actually prefer them to or even use one alongside an SSD in a dual storage setup.

You can also read my other article about whether or not SSDs are worth it, which would offer you a greater technical perspective on the subject.

But before we discuss the reasons why an HDD might still be a viable choice for some gamers, we first need to address the differences between internal and external SSDs.

Can you use an external SSD for PC gaming?

external ssd drive with usb cable

Like with hard disk drives, there are both external and internal solid-state drives that you can use for extra storage on your gaming computer.

Depending on the year and manufacturer of your computer, it might already have an internal SSD if it was made within the last couple of years, as solid-state drives are quickly becoming the norm for gaming PCs and laptops alike.

Although it is becoming more common for gaming PCs to have internal SSDs built into them by their manufacturers, you always have the option of purchasing an external SSD if yours lacks one.

External SSDs are portable and smaller than ever, so they are an excellent choice if you don’t feel like opening up your computer to install an internal SSD or taking it to an expert to do so.

External SSDs and internal SSDs are largely functionally the same, with the primary difference being very straightforward: an external SSD can be plugged into your computer and used right away, while an internal SSD has to be attached to your PC’s motherboard.

Most computers allow you to use both an internal and an external SSD if you need more storage.

Considering many modern PC games can be hundreds of GBs in size, using an external SSD in addition to the internal SSD or HDD your computer already might be worth considering if you have a large number of games that you rotate between playing frequently.

What is an HDD?

a mechanical hard disk drive or HDD

Before you set your sights on an SSD for your gaming laptop, you should decide if a hard disk drive by itself is sufficient for your gaming and browsing needs.

HDDs have been the standard in both desktops and laptops for many years because they’re easily accessible, cost-efficient, and have huge storage capacities.

However, they are quickly becoming obsolete now that the technology used in SSDs is becoming faster, cheaper, and more efficient.

An HDD is a form of electronic storage used in computers. A typical hard disk drive consists of a stack of thin, magnetized disks, also known as disk platters, to store data.

The data is accessed using an attached actuator arm with a magnetized head that reads and writes information stored on the disk platters.

In the past, the standard size for most HDDs was 5.2 inches (13.21 cm). However, in recent years, this has decreased to two main sizes: 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) and 2.5 inches (6.35 cm), with the 2.5-inch (6.35-cm) variety, commonly being used in laptops and the 3.5-inch (8.89-cm) size usually present in desktop computers.

Most standard desktop computers and laptops have HDDs installed in them as they are the default for electronic storage. But are there still any benefits of using one over the more modern and sleek SSD?

What are the benefits of using an HDD for a gaming laptop?

technician installing a hard drive into a laptop

Hard disk drives are still commonly used in desktop computers and laptops, although SSDs are quickly becoming the primary means of storage for gaming setups. HDDs still do have some benefits worth considering, though, including: 

  • HDDs are cheaper than SSDs. If you’re concerned with getting the most storage for your price point, HDDs are the way to go. While the typical SSD costs roughly $0.10 per GB, HDD storage is far less expensive at around $0.02 per GB.
  • HDDs have more storage than SSDs. In addition to your storage being cheaper with an HDD, you also will end up with more space in general. It is common to find HDDs with capacities of 2 TB or even more, while the average SSD has a capacity of only 500 GB or so.
  • HDDs are more reliable with larger files. Although SSDs are perfect for retrieving and loading smaller files, HDDs tend to fare better with large files stored in adjacent or connected blocks. Considering many modern games can reach hundreds of GBs in size, you might want to keep some of them on an HDD rather than an SSD, especially when you aren’t playing regularly.
  • HDDs have a longer lifespan than SSDs. SSD technology is constantly evolving and improving, but the fact currently stands that hard disk drives last longer. Despite being able to handle more physical damage, an SSD kept even in the best condition will likely only last 5-10 years, while HDDs can last decades if properly maintained.
  • Recovering data is easier with HDDs. In another testament to its reliability, rescuing corrupted data from an HDD is generally more straightforward than it is with an SSD. It is easier to locate data on an HDD, and they also display clear warning signs (usually unusual sounds like grinding and sputtering from the disk platters) when they fail.
  • SSDs aren’t as susceptible to physical damage. Unlike a hard drive, SSDs have no moving parts, so there is a far lower chance that you will be able to cause damage to it from a drop or other impact damage.

Despite the rapidly growing popularity of solid-state drives, especially in gaming laptops, HDDs are still commonly used thanks to how cheap and accessible they are and the amount of storage you can get for a low price.

Additionally, PC experts have a more extensive and reliable bank of knowledge regarding how HDDs function because they’ve been around for much longer than SSDs. 

Does a gaming PC need an SSD and an HDD?

hdd and ssd drives

Although you don’t necessarily need both types of storage for a gaming PC, dual storage setups are becoming much more prevalent in recent years. Today, most tech-savvy PC gamers opt to use both an HDD and an SSD on the same computer and relegate them to different purposes. 

Using a computer with this dual storage setup, you can achieve the most efficient, durable, and cost-effective solution possible for your enormous library of games and other assorted files.

If cost isn’t an issue, then sure, you certainly could purchase a giant stack of SSDs to blow through at your leisure. Unfortunately, the reality is that most consumers have to find a happy medium between cost and performance without sacrificing too much of either.

To solve this issue, you should use your computer’s hard disk drive for mass storage of files you don’t use as often and a solid-state drive or two to store your games and more frequently-used files.

This way, your games will boot up as quickly as possible thanks to being held on an SSD. You can keep your other files can be kept out of the way on a lower-priority HDD storage.

Additionally, many newer gaming computers have a dual storage setup that uses an HDD and an SSD, removing the need to purchase an additional drive on your own.

Although these computers can be expensive, they are worth the investment if you don’t want to worry about searching for an external SSD or opening up your computer to attach an internal SSD to its motherboard.

In the future, as SSD prices continue to drop and their storage capacity continues to rise, likely, HDDs will eventually become obsolete in favor of pure SSD systems, at least amongst people with gaming PCs.

For now, though, the debate over which type of storage is superior will remain for years to come.

So, currently, what kind of advantages can you expect if you decide to use a computer with a dual storage system?

Benefits of using an SSD and HDD dual storage system

Rather than pitting these two storage options against each other, many gamers decide to use both for different purposes. Many benefits are associated with using a dual storage system, primarily:

  • Allocating certain files to different storage types. It’s common to use SSDs for more frequently accessed files and use HDDs for longer-term media files like photos, music, documents, and videos that will mostly sit in the background and not be opened very often.
  • Saving money on lower-priority storage with an HDD. By using your HDD for the bulk of your less important files, you’re going to save a lot more money per GB than if you were to throw everything you possibly can onto an SSD. This way, you’ll only be using your SSD for your highest-priority data, meaning you won’t waste space on files that don’t benefit much from faster boot times.
  • You’ll have backup storage if one drive fails. Depending on how you store and arrange your files, you can use either your hard disk drive or your solid-state drive as a backup if you encounter any issues with either one. You will then be able to transfer the files from one to the other in a pinch.

Should you store your games on your SSD or HDD?

If you’re using a computer with dual storage, you might be wondering which drive should be used primarily for storing your library of games. The answer mostly depends on which games you’re actively and repeatedly playing and which ones you aren’t using as much.

Generally, it’s best to use your SSD for games that you’re currently playing, while any games that you’ve either finished or don’t plan on playing for a while should be stored on your HDD.

By keeping the games you are actively playing on your SSD, they’ll benefit from the faster load and boot times associated with solid-state drives. 

In the meantime, the rest of your game library can sit safely on your HDD with your other less-often used media files, as hard disk drives are more secure for long-term storage anyway. Just transfer your data accordingly and keep track of which files are being stored on either drive.

Conclusion

For gamers everywhere, solid-state drives are becoming more common despite their high cost and lack of substantial storage space.

SSDs are fast, compact, and use minimal power, so they are perfect for gamers with efficiency in mind. However, hard disk drives are still viable for various uses thanks to their low cost, huge storage capacity, and long-term durability.

As the technology used for SSDs becomes cheaper and more optimized, they will eventually become the preferred electronic storage option across the board.

Although the debate over HDDs and SSDs remains, we highly recommend using an SSD for your gaming PC.