Does A Gaming PC Need An SSD?

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

Do You Need An SSD For A PC?

A gaming computer needs a solid-state drive (SSD) and is preferable to a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD). SSDs load programs and access files faster and are more efficient, reliable, and quieter than HDDs.

As mentioned above, SSDs are quickly becoming more common than HDDs, particularly for gaming PCs. Let’s explain why solid-state drives have become so popular over the past decade or more.

  • 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 smaller and perform better than SATA interfaces. 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 add 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. HDDs must constantly move and reposition their disks and arms 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 your hard disk drive’s perpetual spinning and buzzing because solid-state drives are completely silent. Again, this concerns the fact that SSDs aren’t made up of multiple mechanical parts that constantly interact. For this reason, they also don’t vibrate as HDDs do.
  • SSDs are sturdier. 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 falls since they consist of multiple disks and a flimsy actuator arm that can bump against each other and corrupt your precious data. However, SSDs can withstand 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 break up files into fragments and move them around the disk platter, meaning your data isn’t stored together in one logical place as it would be on an SSD. Instead, the HDD’s drive head has to search for 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 of HDDs 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 many files for these games 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 on a gaming laptop, HDDs still use substantial power to access your data. As a result, 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 prefer them 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, offering you a greater technical perspective on the subject.

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

Can you use an external SSD for PC gaming?

Like 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 can always purchase 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.

External SSDs and internal SSDs are largely functionally the same but are attached or connected slightly differently.

An external SSD comes in an encapsulated case and can be plugged into a computer’s external IO port and used immediately. In contrast, an internal SSD is usually mounted inside the computer case and attached or connected directly to the motherboard.

Most computers allow you to use 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 many games you rotate between playing frequently.

What is an SSD?

An M.2 SSD.

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 with several layers of magnetic disks.

The disks constantly spin while an attached actuator arm moves around and accesses stored data. 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.

Solid-state drives are small, sturdy, and have no moving parts. In addition, 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).

What is an HDD?

A computer's 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 is sufficient for your gaming and browsing needs.

HDDs have been the standard in desktops and laptops for many years because they’re easily accessible, cost-efficient, and have larger 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 as they are the default for electronic storage. But are there any benefits of using one over the more modern and sleek SSD?

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

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

  • HDDs are cheaper than SSDs. HDDs are the way to go if you’re concerned with getting the most storage for your price point. While the typical SSD costs roughly $0.10 per GB, HDD storage is far less expensive at around $0.02 per GB. Please refer to my article about why NVMe SSDs are so expensive to know more about the cost factor and what you are paying for.
  • HDDs have more storage than SSDs. So, besides your storage being cheaper with an HDD, you will have more storage space. It is common to find HDDs with a 2 to 4 TB capacity or even more, while the average SSD has a total capacity of only 500 GB to 2 TB.
  • 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. When they fail, locating data and displaying clear warning signs is easier (usually unusual sounds like grinding and sputtering from the disk platters).
  • 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 can 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 PC need an SSD and an HDD for gaming?

SSD with hard disk 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 use 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, you could purchase a giant stack of SSDs to blow through at your leisure. But 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 quickly, thanks to being held on an SSD. You can keep your other files 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.

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.

As SSD prices drop and their storage capacity rises, HDDs will likely 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 might remain for some time.

So, 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 use both for different purposes. Many benefits are associated with using a dual storage system, primarily:

  • Allocating specific files to various storage types. It’s common to use SSDs for more frequently accessed files and HDDs for longer-term media files like photos, music, documents, and videos that mostly sit in the background and are not opened very often.
  • Save money on lower-priority storage with an HDD. By using your HDD for the bulk of your less important files, you’ll save much more money per GB than if you throw everything you 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 your hard disk drive or a solid-state drive as a backup if you encounter any issues. You can then 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 wonder 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 you aren’t using as much.

Generally, it’s best to use your SSD for games you’re currently playing, while any games 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. Transfer your data accordingly and track which files are stored on either drive.