Why You Should Really Buy a Laptop With an SSD (Really!)

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You wouldn't buy a brand-new car with a Ford Model T engine. So why would you merge onto the information superhighway with a laptop that uses an old-school mechanical hard drive? If you want a fast, responsive notebook ─ and why wouldn't you ─ you have to get a solid-state drive (SSD).

When it comes to overall performance, a laptop's storage drive is infinitely more important than other components, like its CPU, RAM and graphics chip. As you boot the computer, open applications and switch between tasks, your processor is tapping its fingers waiting for data to load from the disk. Even if you're not opening files, transferring data or launching apps, your OS and software are using virtual memory (aka swap files) in the background.

SSD in laptop

With a technology that dates back to the 1950s, hard-disk drives feature a spindle that moves over a rotating magnetic platter grabbing data like an old-school record-player needle drawing sound from a vinyl LP. Hereꞌs why you really need an SSD.

Dramatic Performance Improvements

Because a solid-state drive has no moving parts, it's able to read and write data infinitely faster than a hard drive. The real-world difference is most noticeable when you're booting your computer or opening an application.

We upgraded a Dell Inspiron 15 5000 with a Core i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM from a 5,400 rpm hard drive to a 250GB SSD, and the time it took load Word 2016 dropped from 31.9 seconds to 1.8 seconds. Loading the Chrome browser went from 14 seconds to 1.1 seconds and Excel went from 19.9 seconds to 1.8 seconds.

App Open Times

While you're sitting there staring at the blue ring of fire in Windows or spinning rainbow beachball on Mac, you're not only wasting time but losing your train of thought as you scratch your head and whisper "Come on already. I don't have all day." With an SSD, the computer can work as fast as you do.

It almost goes without saying that copying files is infinitely quicker with an SSD. Of laptops we reviewed in the past 12 months, models with SSDs copied files at an average rate of 237.8 megabytes per second, while those with hard drives averaged just 33.9 MBps.

Laptop file transfer test: SSD vs HDD

Battery Life and Durability

SSDs also use less power than hard drives, because they don't have to power any moving parts. The average SSD-enabled laptop we benchmarked lasted 7 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. Hard-drive-powered laptops averaged only 5 hours and 43 minutes.

Battery Life compared

If you're worried about your laptop breaking, you definitely want an SSD. SSDs are much more likely to survive a fall, because they don't have hard drives' delicate needles and platters.

The Cost of SSDs

There's no doubt that SSDs cost more. Most sub-$700 laptops don't come with solid-state drives, though some really cheap systems come with eMMC Flash memory, a solid-state storage format that's no faster than a hard drive. Some noteworthy exceptions include the $399 Asus E403SA and $611 Lenovo ThinkPad 13, both of which come standard with 128GB SSDs.

On manufacturer sites where you can configure a laptop to order, companies such as Dell and Lenovo charge a high premium to upgrade from a hard drive to an SSD, or to move from a smaller SSD to a larger one. For example, if you configure your ThinkPad T460 on Lenovo.com, it costs a full $290 to move from a 500GB hard drive to a 512GB SSD, while a 512GB SSD costs just $125 on the aftermarket. The relatively high cost is why you should either settle for a lower-capacity SSD or consider upgrading the laptop yourself.

$290 to upgrade to 512GB SSD

Can You Upgrade?

Whether you're buying a new laptop or trying to breathe new life into an older computer, you can save a lot of money by swapping out the preinstalled hard drive or low-capacity SSD for one you buy yourself. Not all laptops are user-upgradable; many have an SSD soldered onto the motherboard or located in a place you can't access without damaging other components.

Replacing a hard drive with SSD

You can find out not only if your laptop is upgradable but what type of SSD it needs ─ 2.5-inch SATA, mSATA, M.2 60mm or M.2 80mm ─ by checking either its service manual or a memory finder such as Crucial's Memory Advisor tool. If the laptop currently has a hard drive, it almost certainly uses a 2.5-inch SATA drive. No matter the size and connection, you can usually find a 256GB SSD for well under $100 and a 480 or 500GB capacity for less than $150.

MORE: How to Tell if You Can Upgrade Your Laptop

Though each laptop is built a little differently, the process of upgrading your storage drive is basically the same. You must first clone the contents of your existing drive using a tool such as EaseUS Todo Backup Free and an external drive enclosure to attach the new drive. After the cloning is finished, you open up the laptop, remove the old drive and pop in the new.

However, many people don't want to take the risk of opening up their laptops and potentially breaking something. Most manufacturers don't void your warranty just for changing out the drive, though you'll want to double-check because some do. Also, if you damage something or have trouble resulting from the upgrade, your warranty and tech support definitely won't cover it.

MORE: How to Upgrade Your Laptop to SSD

Storage Space

Laptops that come with SSD usually have just 128GB or 256GB of storage, which is enough for all your programs and a decent amount of data. However, users who have lots of demanding games or huge media collections will want to store some files in the cloud or add an external hard drive. Some gaming and workstation-class laptops offer the best of both worlds, having a fast SSD and a spacious hard drive.

The lack of storage may be a small hassle, but the increase in speed is worth the trade-off. If you can possibly afford it, 256GB is a lot more manageable than 128GB.

eMMC Memory Is Not SSD

Many low-cost laptops these days claim to have an SSD, but use eMMC memory, instead. Most Chromebooks and sub-$200 Windows systems use this type of storage, which offers the increased durability and energy-efficiency of a real SSD, but not the performance.

The average laptop we tested with eMMC memory notched a lowly transfer rate of 37.8 MBps. However, these systems lasted an average of 8 hours and 52 minutes on our battery test.

What Kind of SSD Is Best

Any SSD will give you outstanding performance, but ones that use a PCIe-NVMe interface are two to three times quicker than those that use SATA, the more typical connection type. Where a SATA drive usually achieves a rate of 125 to 200 MBps on our file-transfer test, PCIe-NVMe SSDs can be as fast as 550 MBps.


However, most mainstream and budget laptops don't support PCIe-NVMe drives. The Dell XPS 13/15, the Lenovo Yoga 900 and the Razer Blade are examples of laptops that come with PCIe drives as an option. All current MacBooks use PCIe drives as well.

Bottom Line

It's 2016 and there aren't many good reasons to buy a laptop with a slow-moving, mechanical hard drive. No matter how fast your processor and how sleek your software, you'll always suffer from frustrating lag if you don't have an SSD. Making a smart purchase or performing an upgrade after you buy will make that choice more affordable.

Lead Image Credit: Shutterstock / JIPEN

Laptop Guide

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • Shane Harvey Says:

    Correction: Samsung SSD 860 1TB SATA. PCIe version not available. Price after a bit of searching Samsung SSD 890 1TB $496.50. After some more searching I did find a SAMSUNG PM961 1TB M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD for $219 and an intel SSDPEKNW010T801 660p 1TB SSD for $243. Both within my price range.

  • Shane Harvey Says:

    I bought a 500GB Crucial SSD of eBay, for my acer E1-570 a few weeks back. At $125, it was well worth it. Also I increased the ram to 8GB fro 4GB. The biggest benefit came from the SSD. It used to take more than 7 minutes to boot. Now it takes less than a minute. (around 45 seconds give or take) I'm planning to upgrade my PC next. My PC is just for games. It has a spare PCIe slot so I'm looking for an affordable 1TB SSD at the moment. I just looked on eBay and I can get a Samsung SSD 860 1TB PCIe for $240. Time to do a bit of saving.

  • Eleanor Says:

    I was amazed to learn about SSD as opposed to HDD. So I got excited. Just maybe I may be able to upgrade from HDD to SSD on my mid 2010 MacBook Pro.. 2 Speeds - Slow and dead slow..at as now.
    What do you think?
    Your articles rock! I've learnt so much. For a 71 year old who tries to keep up with technology, they are eye openers.
    Hope you'll answer my question. Thanks again

  • Amit Patekar Says:

    Excellent article on hdd vs ssd. I just bought Lenovo Yoga 520 with 1TB HDD and it was my worst experience. Windows 10 was freezing all the time. Programs were opened many times as screen was not responsive and had clicked multiple times in frustration. Now cloning my hdd to Samsung SSD at 2am in night on just 2nd day of buying new laptop. I will suggest, never buy new notebook with hdd or even better buy Laptop with hdd if you get a good discount or at lesser price. Then buy SSD separately and replace it in new laptop. It will save you money.

  • You Are Says:

    To the individuals stating that a 1TB HDD is better than only having 100GB left over on a 512GB SSD..... you're inept.HDD WILL crash even if new. That's the nature of the least with electronics. Parts arrive DOA and give out in the blink of an eye.Also, HDD WILL corrupt itself.The chances a SDD will do the above are far.....far less.You are just lucky at this point. When I build a desktop and use both...guess which one gives out or is DOA first? Yep, the HDD.One 2TB SSD,4 2TB HDD and 3 are DOA. Now I've use strictly SSD.

    Have fun with your HDD...slow,heats up/freezes,DOA,jams,not shock proof,can't move laptop if in motion,loud,crashes at the worst least expected times.Wow ....

  • Pratha Scullion Says:

    I just realized how idiotic was my previous comment.
    If I need to store huge data, I must obviously choose HDDs. I don't need to access GBs of photos or movies every other second. But I must have my OS and other applications installed on an SSD for super fast performance. Having my OS on SSD means every single task I perform on my computer is super fast. The OS will never have to wait for the spinning disk forever.

  • Pratha Scullion Says:

    I'm fixing to get a new laptop -- and it WON'T have a solid-state hard drive either{and with good reason}.First of all,I'm having to replace my oldest laptop that I got 10 years ago{in 2007}.Except for the DVD drive,the laptop works fine.However,the manufacturer no longer makes this laptop and parts are starting to get a little hard to get.When parts are hard to get,that's telling you it's time to get a new computer! The new computer has several hard drive options.One is a 512GB SSD.That sounds real good.Except that over the 10 years I've had it,I've accumulated over 400GB of files on my old computer! That means when I get ready to transfer my old files to the new computer,there's only going to be some 100GB of space left on that new hard drive -- NOT a good idea! A far better idea is to take up another option the computer offers -- a 1TB hard drive! TWICE the size of a 500GB hard drive! However,this is a regular hard drive,not a solid-state drive.A problem here? Not really! Over the 10 years I've had my old computer,I've had the hard drive upgraded twice.When the hard drive approached capacity,I simply had it upgraded.Everyone knows that the longer you keep your computer,the more stuff you're going to put on your hard drive.So after 5,6 or more years,guess what becomes the issue? Capacity! Not speed -- but capacity! After 5,6 or more years,you want to make sure you have plenty of space left on your hard drive.With a 1TB hard drive,this won't be a problem.So instead of having only about 100GB of space left on my hard drive,I'll have some 600GB of space left on a 1TB hard drive -- a far better option{even if it's not a solid-state drive}.And I haven't even mentioned the cost difference!There are times when a solid state hard drive is a good option -- and there are times when it's not.In my case,getting a solid-state hard drive is NOT a good idea!

  • JuanSoto Says:

    Terrific article. Loved the table comparisons between SSDs and HDs. Something about seeing the numbers highlighted in this way... appreciate the work in putting this together.

    Maybe in a future article you can look at comparing eMMC with PCIe-NVMe a bit more closely - as these are the two primary storage mediums today on most devices. Seeing eMMC compared to mechanical HDs would be really interesting.

    On a side note, I think mechanical HDs still have their place on home PCs. They're still valuable as a low-cost storage medium.

    I have an older 2009 laptop (duo-core, 500gb hd) running Linux. If a laptop is always used plugged in, most of the drive is used as storage for data (videos, music, etc) AND you're running a lightweight OS - performance is actually very good. I get very good boot times, exceptional shut-down times and most apps load very quickly.

    I also get ear-popping sound and a nice matte screen. Not suggesting this laptop is better in any way vs modern stuff, only saying that it still retains good value when used a certain way.

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