All about hard drives

All about hard drives

Posted by Ed Lasher on 15th Apr 2015

Data storage — sexy topic, right?

Anyway, you may have noticed that most of our Toughbooks come with the option to upgrade the hard drive. Each laptop comes with a standard SATA hard disk drive, but if you want more storage or a faster drive, we're happy to set it up for you.

There are essentially three types of laptop hard drive:

  • Standard hard disk drive (HDD)
  • Solid-state drive (SSD)
  • Hybrid drive (SSHD)

So, what's the difference?

I'll give you the short answer first. SSDs are faster, more durable and more energy efficient than HDDs. They are also considerably more expensive. An SSD will make your computer boot up faster and feel snappier. SSHDs provide something of a happy medium. By combining HDD and SSD technologies, SSHDs are nearly as fast as SSDs with a lower price tag.

Hard disk drive (HDD)

HHDs are the most common storage technology. Unless we specify otherwise, any hard drive we list for is a SATA HDD (we’ll talk about what SATA means a bit later). These hard drives work using a spinning magnetic platter and a head that reads and writes binary data in the form of voltage spikes. It's kind of like a bonkers magic record player. The guy in this video does a better job explaining the technical stuff:

(Source: Wikipedia.)


  • Inexpensive
  • Reliable


  • Susceptible to damage (although the shock-absorbent caddy in a Panasonic Toughbook greatly reduces this)
  • Not nearly as fast as an SSD
  • Uses more power than an SSD

Solid-state drive (SSD)

Already making rapid gains in popularity, SSDs are poised to become the new standard once the price comes down. Unlike HDDs, SSDs contain no moving parts. Instead, they employ flash memory — the same tech you'll find in a USB thumb drive. Every piece of data in your computer is comprised of a complex series of on and off switches, yesses and nos, ones and zeroes. While an HDD reads and writes ones and zeroes by detecting and manipulating magnetic fields, an SSD manages its ones and zeroes by controlling the flow of current through a densely populated by a grid of microscopic transistors across an integrated circuit board. When a chain of transistors conducts current, that’s a one. When it doesn’t, zero. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but let's not get carried away.


  • Crazy fast
  • No moving components means it won't fail if it gets knocked around
  • Fragmentation is a non-issue
  • Runs quiet


  • Large amounts of storage can be expensive
  • Low quality SSDs can wear out after a couple years

Solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD)

Hybrid drives try to get the best of both worlds. The bulk of the data is stored in the HDD element, while the SSD element stores a copy of whichever data it thinks will improve your computer's performance. For example, boot data is kept in flash storage, allowing your computer to start up almost as fast as it would with a full-on SSD. SSHDs also optimize, or learn which files are accessed most frequently and store them in the flash memory for speedy retrieval.


  • Fast
  • Less expensive than an SSD


  • Not quite as zippy as an SSD
  • Has moving parts
  • A bit more expensive than an HDD


You may be wondering if an SSD or SSHD will work with your laptop. Good news! Even though SSDs and SSHDs are different on the inside, they’re all designed to have the same form factor, and they all use the same SATA connector. Laptop hard drives are built to be operating system and manufacturer agnostic, so compatibility isn't something you have to worry about — Unless you are using an older laptop like, for example, a Toughbook CF-29. Those use IDE connectors, and can only be used with very expensive, sluggish IDE drives. It is possible to buy IDE-to-SATA adapters, but we don't recommend it. Any added performance will be throttled by the outdated IDE connector.

In short, just make sure your laptop takes SATA drives (it probably does). If you are still using a laptop with an IDE HDD, either make peace with the fact that you'll never get high performance out of your machine, or replace it with a better laptop.

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