The Best of Both Worlds: An SSD and a HDD

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Patrick Couzens asked about using both a solid state drive (SSD) and a hard disk drive (HDD) in the same computer.

I think this is an excellent idea. It gives you most of the speed advantages of an SSD without the constricted space.

Because it has no moving parts, an SSD performs much faster than a hard drive. But you pay a heavy price for that--literally. As I write this, you can buy a 1TB internal hard drive for less than $100. You can't buy a 64GB SSD for that little.

However, if you keep your data files (what Windows 7 calls libraries) on your hard drive, and put Windows and your applications on a much smaller capacity SSD, you'll likely gain most of the advantages of an SSD without losing the massive storage capacities of today's hard drives.

I did some casual benchmarking to determine how much of a benefit an SSD would give you in this situation. Eight tasks took 220 seconds using only a Seagate Barracuda 7200 hard drive, but only 129 seconds using only Kingston Technology SSDNow 100 SSD. That's an improvement of just over 41 percent.

But when I used the SSD as my system drive, and the hard drive for data, it did almost as well, completing the tasks in 134 seconds. That's 39 percent faster than the hard drive by itself, and only 4 percent slower than the SSD by itself.

I have to admit it: I didn't expect that much of an improvement. Your numbers may vary.

How big an SSD do you need? Again, your numbers may vary, but my own system partition--including all of my installed applications but no data--could fit on a 64GB drive with plenty of room to spare.

Even for systems with only one drive, I recommend using separate system and data partitions. See Move Your Data to a Safer, Separate Partition, Part 1: XP, Part 2: Vista, or the Windows 7 version for instructions on setting up Windows for this type of use.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter.

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