SSD vs. HDD for Music Production – What’s Best?

You don’t need an SSD – a normal 7200 RPM HDD drive will do the job. An SSD will however improve the speed of your music production software & computer overall. Sampler instruments will run faster & project audio will drop out less.

If you’re building a new computer, check out our music production computer requirements guide.

What is an SSD and Why is it Better?

samsung 970 evo plus ssd
970 Evo Plus – best ssd for music production

SSD stands for solid state drive and that basically means that it doesn’t have any moving parts.

Due to this, SSD’s have a much faster read and write speed that HDD’s, & make the entire process of using your computer much smoother – everything loads quicker, opens quicker & in general you’re setting yourself up to have the Usain Bolt of computers.

It also makes them much more compact, when compared to a HDD – freeing up space in your PC & being easier to carry around (external SSD’s).

On the other hand, HDD stands for hard disk drive, and they do have moving parts inside them. HDD’s look like a space age vinyl player.

They operate by using an arm that sweeps back and forth over the shiny, magnetic platter below, which is what allows for the read & write option.

hdd breakdown explainthatstuff.com

Because of this it makes them slower than their SSD counterparts, much clunkier & more possible to break through accidental dropping. 

(which if you’re clumsy like me, and have a laptop, is a real issue)

But they’re not all bad. 

HDD’s have their place in music production computers, because they’re extremely cheap, for a lot of space and can be used to store large amounts of samples, instruments & other files that will eat your SSD space.

If you have something like Kontakt, Omnisphere or any other, huge sampler based instrument, you can use your HDD space to install the massive libraries (Omnisphere’s basic is 70GB+). 

By doing this, it keeps your SSD clean & leaves space for more important things like your music production software, the direct VST plugin installations & programs that need power to run (Photoshop, Video editing software etc).

Choosing Between an SSD or HDD

hdd vs ssd for music production

SSD

So, now you know what they do, which is best and what should you choose? 

SSD’s are hands down better + quicker, and if you have the extra money to splash on the bigger space drives, you should definitely go for an entirely SSD setup.

They’re so much quicker & they vastly improve the workflow of music production, as well as anything else you may need your computer for.

They’re much less prone to damage, last much longer & also are far less likely to lose your precious data. That being said, you should always be backing up your drives & keeping your computer clean of unwanted cache files, to keep it running like new.

(For this you can use CCleaner [Windows] or MacKeeper [Mac]).

HDD

HDD’s are much cheaper.

You can get a whole lot more space for the price point &, if you get a 7200 RPM drive, your software will run fine. It won’t be anywhere near as lightning quick as an SSD, but if you’re on a budget, then you may have to cut back here.

If you use a HDD, keep in mind that they’re far more prone to breaking from drops & that they can corrupt a lot more easily than an SSD.

Always keep a backup of your files on an extra or external drive & make sure you’re regularly cleaning your computer to keep it running at optimal speed.

I personally used MacKeeper on my 2015 iMac 27” that was giving me the spinning wheel of death constantly. I thought I’d have to upgrade, but as a last attempt to bring it back to life, I used MacKeeper. 

After running it once, it cleared over 180GB of useless files from my Mac & now it’s running like I got it out of the box.

Don’t underestimate the value of keeping your computer clean.

Which is Best?

ssd vs hdd which is best

SSD should hands down be your choice of drive in your music setup.

As time has passed, SSD’s have become much more affordable, and are no longer a luxury in today’s world. If you can afford a bigger space drive, just do it – the benefits are clear to see.

Additionally, with sample based instruments becoming more and more accurate, they require more space & more power to run. If you take a look at some of the best sampler instruments on the market right now, they have libraries that are incredibly big.

(Kontakt Albion One strings is 20GB+ alone, and that’s just for a few orchestral instruments)

This is due to the velocity layer, higher sample rates and more. As time goes on, the speed of a HDD may not be able to keep up with music technology advancements. 

If you’re buying for the future, go with an SSD.

SSD & HDD Music Production Setup – The Best of Both Worlds

ssd and hdd music production computer setup

As mentioned above, SSD’s are infinitely better when it comes to building a music production computer.

But, buying a new computer (or building one) can get very expensive, very quickly. And, as musicians, a lot of us don’t have that much money to spend. So how do we get the best out of a low budget?

Easy.

Use both an SSD and a HDD for your powerhouse. 

This is the current setup I’m running & it works like a dream.

We recommend you work out how much space you need for top priority programs, and put those on your SSD.

These would include things like:

  • Operating system
  • Ableton, Logic or Pro Tools
  • Video editing software
  • Your most used external plugin sample libraries.

Anything that you want to run fast, put it on your SSD. If you can wait a few seconds longer, and it isn’t as important, use your HDD.

My personal setup is a 250GB SSD & a 1TB HDD for samples/project saves & other stuff I need.

Think of your HDD as your extra cupboard space around the house you use to store useful junk that doesn’t add to the aesthetic of the design. Think of your SSD as your beautiful house that you want to look great, while offering functionability.

Do I Need 2 Drives for My Music Production & Sample Libraries?

This question largely depends on you and how much space the files on your computer already take up.

Samples take up an incredible amount of space on your computer & it can quickly leave it cluttered and full.

Personally, using a 250GB SSD, for all my programs & a 1TB HDD for all my samples & projects works perfectly. 

This allows the speed of an SSD and also gives me a big amount of space to use for storage.

If speed is important to you, get an entirely SSD setup. Your sampler instruments will run quicker directly off an SSD. 

If you want speed and a large area to store your thousands of samples, and are ok with loading times, then get an SSD & HDD setup.

If you’re completely fine with having a slower computer, get a HDD and save money.

Should I get an External or Internal Drive?

External or Internal? That is the question.

Internal drives are needed for your operating system & programs stored on your computer. So you will have to get 1 internal drive for your music production needs.

But, what about an extra drive to back up or store samples on?

Personally, I’d recommend getting an extra 2 internal HDD’s, alongside your already internal SSD. One to store your samples and instruments on and the other as an entire system backup if your computer is to fail. 

Then, if you want to take your samples anywhere, an external drive for portability with a laptop.

Let’s say you have your studio computer, and a laptop. The laptop will usually have a lot less memory. Here an external drive (SSD or HDD) is extremely useful, because you can take your projects & samples around with you anywhere you go!

Do I Need a 7200 RPM HDD or Will a 5400 RPM HDD Do for Music Production?

The short answer is yes, you do need a 7200 RPM HDD if you’re using it for music production. 5400 RPM is too slow for audio file consumption & will cause drive errors in your DAW software. 

Using a 5400 RPM HDD for music production can cause:

  • Loss of audio in your project/stuttering audio playback.
  • Slow loading times of samples.
  • Slow loading times of sample instruments.

If you’re building a hybrid model, we thought you’d find this information useful. 

It’s certainly something we wished we’d researched before purchasing a 5400 RPM HDD, only to buy another 7200 RPM.

If you want a really cheap drive for a backup or storage of files that you aren’t going to be using in music production, video editing or other high speed file types, then a 5400 RPM HDD can be extremely useful & cheap.

Recommended SSD for Music Production

So now you know all that, how do you choose the best SSD for music production? Below you’ll find a list of the best value for money, quality SSDs for music production.

Internal

Samsung 970 Evo Plus

samsung evo plus 970 ssd

The Samsung 970 Evo Plus is by far the best SSD for music production purposes.

It’s value for money, technology and speed are unmatched by any other on the market. At a staggeringly cheap price of $69.99 for 250GB & $169.99 for 1TB, the 970 Evo Plus is an absolute steal.

It uses NVMe technology, which allows for up to 3,500MB/s read and write speeds. Your plugins, sampler instruments & other music production tools will run like a dream & the 970 Evo Plus won’t break the bank.

If you’re going for an entirely SSD setup or a hybrid, this is the perfect drive for you. 

Samsung 860 Evo

The Samsung 860 Evo is one below the 970 Evo plus, and operates on traditional flash memory format (V-NAND). 

You can expect to see up to speeds of 550MB/s and 520MB/s.

Because it is a lower range of products, you can expect to see a price decrease, but you’d be surprised to see that it’s not by a lot.

When comparing the price (in 2020), I saw a price decrease of around $10 from the 970 Evo Plus. You can check the current price below.

External

Seagate Barracuda SSD

seagate barracuda external ssd drive

The Seagate Barracuda is a no nonsense, rugged, external SSD drive. It’s the best value for money, external SSD drive you’ll find out there. It’s small in size, so you can take it anywhere and uses USB 3.0 technology to connect.

With the Seagate Barracuda, you can expect to see up to 540MB/s speeds, which will enable the ultra-fast transfer of files between computers. It’ll also mean that your external samples will load incredibly quickly.

You can grab both USB 3.0 & USB C versions of the Barracuda, giving you flexibility between different devices and their port support.

Recommended HDD for Music Production

Internal

Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM HDD

The Seagate Barracuda HDD is an extremely cheap, great value for money HDD that can give you a vast amount of space for samples & anything else. 

You’ll need to grab a 7200 RPM version of the Barracuda, as the 5400 RPM models don’t have enough speed to read audio files as quickly as they’re needed in DAW software.

Trust me…

We know from experience of purchasing a 5400RPM drive and having to deal with drive dropouts in Ableton & excessively slow load times of samples.

Invest the extra $10 in a 7200RPM HDD, it’s fully worth the money.

You can pick up a 2TB HDD for as little as $54.99 (as of writing Oct 2020) & they’re only gonna go down in price.

External

LaCie Rugged Mini External HDD

LaCie drives are by far the best external hard drives about. As mentioned above, when you drop a HDD they’re pretty prone to breaking. 

With portable drives, it’s important to have durability as the main purchase point. You don’t want to be losing all of the data it holds from an easy mistake.

I’ve personally used LaCie drives to store samples, sampler instrument libraries and projects on. They have exceptionally quick transfer times, are small and portable & can take a MASSIVE beating.

I used to have a 1TB, and it would go everywhere with me, in the bottom of my bag with all kinds of stuff inside. I dropped it countless times & never ejected it properly & it never once lost any data or corrupted.

The only reason I don’t have one right now is because I don’t have a laptop & don’t need to be portable.

Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA External

The Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA External is a docking station you can use to turn internal HDDs into external HDDs. 

If you’re looking to save a little bit of cash, then it can be a great decision to use this alongside an internal drive, for your external drive needs. 

As you know, external hard drives can be fairly expensive. So, if you want to be portable, and still have money to spare for more important parts – check this out!

If you’re not tech savvy, I recommend avoiding this, as you can break your drives easily.

Summary

While you don’t need an SSD for music production – a normal 7200 RPM HDD drive will do the job – having an SSD will vastly improve the speed of your computer, music production software & sampler instruments.

If you have the budget for an SSD, it would make sense to get one. However, if allocating more budget to an SSD is going to eat into your processor budget, then stick with a HDD. You’ll still be able to produce on a HDD absolutely fine. It might just be slightly slower loading samples & projects.

If you’re looking into buying a new computer, check out our music production computer requirements guide to make sure you’re fully up to date on what’s needed to run your software.

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