Today’s post is a bit unusual and possibly not of much interest to fellow data-hoarders. It comes in response to a question I was recently asked by an aspiring data-hoarder however and I thought it important to address. A few months ago a friend (we’ll call him “Dave”, because, well, that’s his name) was admiring my storage setup and became a little fascinated by the amount of old TV content I was hoarding. Dave expressed an interest in the hobby and asked me quite a lot of questions about it and computing and data-storage in general. Fast-forward a few months and the COVID-19 lockdown had clearly been affecting Dave as he called me to tell me he’d been thinking about our prior conversation and had been searching eBay for hardware to get him started on his data-hoarding adventure. Now, Dave is an intelligent guy but he has never really had an interest in technology or IT so he is starting from the ground up. The question I was asked was “What does 128GB SSD mean?“. Clearly Dave had been looking at low-end PC systems online and had repeatedly seen them offered with a 128GB SSD included. The knowledge I had imparted to Dave a few months earlier had clearly been forgotten so I decided to write this post as a refresher for Dave but also to help anyone non-technical starting out in the data-hoarding hobby.
To get back to basics, each time we download something from the Internet, such as a TV show, movie, or game, this download consumes some of the storage space on our computer. When we install software from a CD or DVD or upload photos from our smartphones, this also uses some storage. In a PC system, this storage is more often than not in the form of a hard disk drive (an HDD) or a solid-state drive (an SSD). We’ll talk later about what these terms mean but for now we just need to remember that their capacity (how much they can store) is often measured in GB or Gigabytes. Therefore, a “128GB SSD” refers to a solid-state drive with a storage capacity of 128 Gigabytes.
The difference between HDD and SSD
Traditionally, most PCs used a mechanical hard disk drive (HDD) to store their data. A mechanical drive uses physical magnetic heads that move over a spinning metal surface to record data in streams on ones and zeros (i.e. binary). The magnetic head magnetizes certain areas of the platter to indicated the value of each bit (a “1” or a “0”). You don’t need to understand this at a deep technical level at this point. You just need to know that because the drives are mechanical, they tend to suffer from quite a high failure rate. A decent mechanical drive might last you five to ten years. The other problem with mechanical hard drives is that they’re quite slow. The mechanical read/write head needs to be physically moved over the spinning platter/disc using motors, to the correct area. Although this happens very quickly in our perception, it’s actually very slow compared to how long other digital operations inside a computer take.
To address these shortcomings, the SSD was introduced a number of years ago. As the name suggests, a solid-state drive has no moving parts so it takes longer to wear out. It’s also much faster than an HDD because it doesn’t need to physically spin up platters and move heads in order to read or write data. The downside of SSDs is that they’re generally lower capacity than hard drives and they tend to cost more. The price of SSD’s is falling however and the capacities increase each year.
What does the 128GB mean?
When you see a system advertised with a 128GB SSD, it means the SSD (Solid State Drive) it comes with, has a capacity of 128 Gigabytes. If you don’t know what that means, it means it can hold 128,000,000,000 bytes. Is that a lot? Not enough? Too much? Well, I’ll need to be careful at this point because as a data hoarder I could get carried away trying to explain this further. I’ll try to keep things simple in the spirit of this article. Please take the information I share below to be purely indicative for the purposes of this explanation.
Storing text on a 128GB SSD
1 byte is enough to store one character or letter of the English language. If you write a short story of 5000 words, that might be 28,000 letters, for example. This would consume 28,000 bytes of storage (28KB, or 28 Kilobytes as it’s known in the business). You could, therefore, store 4.5 million of these stories on your 128GB SSD.
How many movies can our 128GB SSD hold?
For most of us, we won’t be storing plain text, notepad stories on our SSDs. We’ll be data-hoarding movies, photos, games, TV shows, music, etc. These types of files are stored in a binary format and they take up a lot more space than a text document generally would. To give you some very basic examples, say you want to store solely movies on your SSD, and for the purposes of this example, you have a penchant for 4GB DVD Rips. 128 divided by 4 is 32, therefore, your 128GB SSD could hold 32 of the aforementioned videos.
Number of songs our SSD can store on its 128GB capacity
Let’s have another quick example. Hypothetically, Dave wants to rip his CD collection to MP3 or FLAC. He knows that FLAC will give him perfect sound quality as it’s a lossless format. Dave also knows that FLAC takes up more storage space than MP3 so he’s considering ripping his CD collection to MP3 to save space. Of course, there’s a compromise as MP3 produces a lower quality sound than FLAC or the original CD as it’s a lossy format. Let’s do some quick sums and work out how many CDs Dave could store on his 128GB SSD. A traditional CD can hold 74 minutes of audio. FLAC generally consumers 5MB (5,000,000 bytes) per minute. Therefore, the entire contents of the audio CD can be stored as FLAC consuming 370MB. (74 x 5 = 370).
MP3 (encoded at 128 Kbps) consumes 960KB per minute (128 kilobits / 8 = 16 kilobytes. 16 kilobytes x 60 seconds = 960KB per minute). We can now calculate that the 74 minutes CD stored in MP3 would consume around 71MB (960KB x 74 minutes = 71MB). So, in summary, with the audio saved in the FLAC format, a 128GB SSD can store around 346 CDs. If the audio was saved in the MP3 format with a bitrate of 128Kbps, the 128GB SSD can store around 1800 CDs.
Is a 128GB SSD large enough to store modern games?
A few years ago 128GB would have been enough for us to install dozens of games and still have room for data-hoarding. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. The past few years have seen an explosion of the amount of space needed to store modern games. This is in part thanks to modern graphics and textures used to produce an HD or 4k gaming experience. For example, GTA5 Premium Edition, downloaded from Epic Games, needs a massive 96GB. This means you wouldn’t even be able to store two such large games on your 128GB SSD.
How much free space will you have after installing Windows on your 128GB SSD?
We need to remember that in this example, we’re not talking about buying an extra SSD just for storage. We’re talking about buying a computer with the SSD installed as its only storage mechanism. This means before you even start downloading anything, your operating system (e.g. Microsoft Windows) will be taking up some of that 128GB. Then you’ll probably want the usual applications like Office and Adobe Reader, etc installed. These too will consume some of the space, leaving you with even less space. Windows 10 x64 needs at least 32GB and Office needs around 5GB depending on which applications you need. This means that even if your PC manufacturer didn’t install a load on unwanted additional software, Windows and Office will be taking up 37GB. From your original 128GB, you’ll be left with around 91GB free on your SSD.
Is a 128GB SSD large enough?
You’ll need to make your own decisions based on what I’ve written in this article. To give you a clue, if you’re a light user, and basically consider your PC to be a “Facebook Machine”, 128GB will be fine. For Web browsing and accessing email 128GB will be enough as you’re not actually going to be saving anything to the SSD so the small amount of free space you have will remain static.
If on the other hand you’re a power user. For example, a heavy gamer or professional doing the like of video editing or music production then the answer is no, 128GB is not enough for you. You could of course add an additional hard drive or two. You could just use the 128GB SSD for your operating system and store everything else on external USB drives or internal hard drives. Or if you’re feeling flush, you could install a larger (such as 1TB) SSD to maintain the speed and performance benefits that solid-state drives bring.
What does 1TB SSD mean?
In case I’ve confused you with the last paragraph, a 1TB SSD is a solid-state drive with a capacity of 1000GB. To put it another way, a 1TB SSD will be around 8 times larger than the hypothetical 128GB SSD we’ve been discussing.
In summary, when you see a computer advertised as having a 128GB SSD, it means the manufacturer is including a solid-state drive for storage with a capacity of 128GB, with the system. This may or may not be sufficient depending on your use case. If it’s not enough then you can either buy another computer with a larger SSD (for example, a 1 TB SSD) or you could just add additional storage at a later date.