NVMe, SSD, & HDD; Understanding PC Storage

NVMe, SSD, and HDD all refer to one thing; PC storage. Often somewhat incorrectly called memory- your storage is the place on your computer where all your files live, your games, your media, and even your operating system. When it comes to storage, there are a few different options on the types of drives you can use, and they all come with their own benefits and drawbacks. In this article, we’ll cover the history of PC storage devices, the differences between the main types, and how to combine different storage drives for use in your PC. 




A 5TB Seagate HDD


How Hard Drives Work


Hard disk drives, or more commonly known as HDDs were introduced by IBM in the 1950’s with the introduction of the IBM RAMAC. This predecessor to the HDD was nearly two feet tall, and held just 5 megabytes of data. The drive operated with magnetized disks stacked together, reading the data with a magnetized head that traveled up and down along the stack. While it traveled, the head converted the patterns of magnetization into binary code, which could then be read by the computer. The way those giant drives operate is essentially the same today, but on a much smaller scale. 


Inside the housing of an HDD is a rotating disk coated in a magnetic material, and an arm with a magnetic head that can read and write data. It looks kind of like a record player, and they almost work the same way. This arm writes data by moving back and forth across the magnetized surface, creating patterns of left and right magnetization that translate into binary code. Whenever you access files on an HDD, the disk rapidly spins as the arm reads the data and translates it.


Given the way these drives write and read data, their major drawback is speed. The platter can only spin so fast, even on higher speed drives. On the positive side, they come in much larger capacities than other drives, and for much better prices. 


A SanDisk 2.5′ SSD


Solid State Drives


Solid State Drives, also known as SSD’s or 2.5 inch drives, represent the next sequential generation of storage drives. Instead of the spinning disk, these drives use semiconductor cells to store data. Most SSDs utilize flash memory, a technology invented and brought to market by Toshiba in the 1980’s. SSDs combine flash memory with a controller that acts as a brain, distributing read and writing duties across the flash blocks. 


Because they have no moving parts, SSDs tend to be much faster and more reliable than HDDs. They’re also much smaller. On the other hand, they tend to have lower capacities than traditional hard drives, and they’re more expensive per gigabyte. 



A 1TB Samsung M.2 NVMe Drive



NVMe and M.2


NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory express, which is a brand name for the technology that essentially optimizes the way SSDs function. NVMes are not a type of drive on their own, they’re a technology that’s used in specific types of drives. 


Most commonly, you’ll see M.2 form factor NVMe drives. These are a more compact type of solid state drive that uses NVMe technology to offer higher read and write speeds over 2.5 inch SSDs. They slot into a special M.2 header on your motherboard, which aren’t yet standard. However NVMe drives can also come in the form of PCI Express cards for PCIe 3.0 slots, or even 2.5 drives, the M.2 form is just the most popular. 


Of course, the M.2 NVMes are the smallest and fastest drives currently available, but they’re also the most expensive. In addition, they’re not as accessible as 2.5 inch SSDs, as M.2 headers aren’t standard on motherboards, and might not be present for a budget build. 


Practical Applications


These drives all have pros and cons, and the drive you should use comes down to personal preference in most cases. In our opinion, the best setup is to use a combination of SSDs and hard drives for a well rounded storage solution. 


If you’re a VRLA Tech customer already, then you may have noticed that almost all of the PCs we sell come with both an SSD and an HDD. For our higher end builds, we usually provide an M.2 NVMe and an HDD. 


How To View and Select Drives


To view your drives open up the file explorer, and click on “This PC”, there you’ll see a section labeled devices and drives. The C: drive on VRLA Tech computers will always be the SSD. This is the main drive, or otherwise known as the boot drive, it’s where we install windows, and there’s a reason for that. 


As previously mentioned, SSDs are much faster than HDDs. For this reason, we use the SSD as a boot drive. With this simple trick, all of your general tasks in Windows will happen faster including starting up from a full shut down. 


In this case, the HDD  is set up for mass storage, meaning it’s ideal for installing large files, like games or media. 


If there are specific applications you use frequently, you should install them to your C: drive, the SSD, because they’ll open faster. If you store a lot of video files, or have games you only play once in a while, it makes sense to store those on the HDD. 


By default, any new programs you install or files you download will live on your C: drive. You can manually drag files to the D: drive to move them. Delete the file from the C: drive once it’s finished copying.


If you want to install a program to the D: drive, make sure you change the source in the options when you are installing by clicking “browse” when the application requests a source destination. For more in-depth instructions, refer to the video below:

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