How to Create a Hybridized Hard Drive Storage System: Best Internal Hard Drives

By Jon Henning •  Updated: 04/19/22 •  12 min read

If you’re a designer, architect, or digital creator, then you know how quickly your projects grow… iteration after iteration, projects can become very large and cumbersome in a short amount of time. That’s why it’s important to have a file storage system that can handle large files… but the hardware you choose to store your files can have significant impacts on your computer’s performance!

For any size project — you’ll want to make sure that your file storage system is a finely-tuned machine. One that can grow with you, and one that can help you achieve the most efficient workflow.

In this article, I will be sharing how to create a hybridized file storage system.

Hybridized file storage systems are simply a combination of 2 different types of file storage hardware — hard-disk drives and solid-state drives. While solid-state drives are often the go-to for achieving peak performance, it might be best to consider some alternative options when it comes to file storage… especially if you aren’t trying to break the bank.

A hybridized file storage system will offer a slew of benefits for designers, architects, and digital creators in 2022 — and if you’re reading this, I’m guarantee it’ll help you too!

To get you started with creating your own hybridized hard drive system, will also be comparing the best solid-state hard drives and the best hard disk drives.

Before we jump in, there’s some technical jargon you’ll want to know:

HDD = Hard Disk Drive
SSD = Solid State Drive
SATA = Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (invented in 2000)
SATA = A form factor of solid state drives (SSD)
NVMe = Non-Volatile Memory Express (fastest available technology)
TB = Terabyte, storage capacity (1000GB)
GB = Gigabyte, storage capacity (approximately 500 photos on a 12mp camera)

Before you say: “You know they already make hybrid “SSHD” hard drives, right?”

Yes, hybrid solid-state hard disk drives (SSHDs) exist. They utilize both “disk” and “flash” memory within one singular hard drive unit. However, those types of drives will not be covered in this post.

Modular hard drive systems provides greater benefits, which I will explain.

In this post, I told a brief story about how I almost lost 3 years of project data because of a hard drive crash back when I was in architecture school.

The hard drive that I was using at the time was a relatively inexpensive 1TB HDD in my laptop. It was fine for the work that I was doing at the time, however, I made a fatal mistake.

I did not set up my file storage system correctly, and my hard drive crashed at the last-minute before a project was due.

The error I made was that I installed ALL of my files onto one hard drive. The operating system, applications, and general storage all lived on that 1TB HDD, and when that drive went down, I lost everything.

Hybridized Hard Drive Storage System

Luckily, I had been using a cloud storage service that automatically synchronized the files on my laptop, so my long-term storage data was preserved.

From that point on, I decided to learn more about optimizing my file storage system, and that lead to me creating a hybridized file storage system.

What is a Hybridized Hard Drive Storage System?

Definition of hybridize

Cloud storage is a virtual storage infrastructure that users can access remotely over a network — typically the internet. Data is stored in servers or large datacenters, in a physical place in the world. Cloud service providers manage the data that is transferred via the cloud, and these services help to eliminate the need to buy, manage and maintain in-house storage infrastructure.

A hybridized file storage system is an internal configuration of hard drives. This system optimizes storage space and computer performance (speed). The intention of creating a hybridized file storage system is to build a framework for file redundancy (backups) and system security, while being budget-conscious in purchasing the best hard drive for specific tasks.

In a nutshell, it works like this:

You have a small solid-state drive that is used for your operating system and applications, and a large hard disk drive for all of your data storage. This allows you to take advantage of the speed of a solid-state drive, while still having the large storage capacity of a hard disk drive.

Generally, hard disk drives have been around for a lot longer than solid-state hard drives. Hard disk drives are also usually larger in physical size, and they tend to be slower and require more power to operate. However, they are a lot cheaper than solid-state hard drives.

Solid-state hard drives are a newer technology that uses flash memory instead of spinning disks. They are smaller in physical size, faster, use less power, and they don’t have any moving parts. This makes them more resistant to shock and vibration. However, they are more expensive than traditional hard disk drives. This means that your data is less likely to be corrupted if you drop your laptop or if it’s jostled around in your bag.

The best part about using a hybridized system is that you can start small and expand as your needs grow. For example, if you only have a few hundred gigabytes of data, you could start with a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD. As your data storage needs grow, you could then upgrade to a larger SSD and/or HDD.

After my 1TB HDD failed, I wanted to change my storage system entirely to prevent that kind of data loss from happening again. My laptop had multiple internal ports to connect hard drives. These ports included a SATA connection, as well as two M.2 connections.

After doing a bit of research, I built the following setup.

3-Drive Hybridized Hard Drive Setup

Hard Drive #1: Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

The first part of this system provides long-term, mass storage. This is where you’ll store your past projects, archives, and files that you don’t need constant access to.

Think of it as a “lockbox” in a way — in that you’ll use it to hold your files for safe keeping.

This SATA HDD lived in my desktop computer at one point, but now sits on my desk in a hard drive enclosure. I keep all of my backups, archives, and any files that I don’t need constant access to.

Hard disk drives come in two sizes — 2.5″ and 3.5″ for laptops and desktops, respectively. The image below is a 3.5″ hard disk drive that I use for my long-term, mass storage.

Hard disk drives are suitable for mass storage, as they are much cheaper per GB than solid state drives. I would recommend purchasing a hard disk drive if you have a lot of data to store — and they’re cheaper than ever right now.

Jon’s System: Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Best Hard Disk Drive for Architects and Designers

➤ 4TB of storage
➤ Backup storage for projects that I have completed
➤ Auto-sync my cloud storage service

Hard Drive #2: Solid State Drive (SSD)

This SSD (SATA) drive is my “short-term” drive, which I use a temporary “working” drive — often called a ‘scratch disk’.

Scratch disks are important to have integrated into your file system, because they offer the fastest data access read and write speed. If you’re dealing with slow loading times, the first thing that any computer technician will check is the type of hard drive you’re using to store your program files on.

When I integrated a scratch disk into my system for my operating system and program storage, I immediately noticed a difference in load times for my programs and PC boot times. What used to take 30-45 seconds to load was cut down to anywhere between 5-10 seconds.

Jon’s System: Solid State Drive (SSD)
Best Solid State Drive for Architects and Designers

➤ 1TB of storage
➤ ‘Current’ project storage (things I’m actively working on)
➤ Primary ‘working’ drive, i.e; ‘scratch disk’ for most projects

Hard Drive #3: M.2 Drive

This M.2 SSD drive is used ONLY for storing my operating system and my applications. PCIe is the fastest available port on my computer, so utilizing a M.2 SSD is critical for achieving maximum performance.

Any programs or files saved to this hard drive have the fastest access time, which is critical for productivity. Although M.2 are more expensive than the other hard drives I mentioned above, the price is worth it for productivity.

If you opt for a M.2 but don’t want to break the bank, go for either 500GB or 1TB of storage space. If you’re planning to store your operating system and applications on this drive, then 500GB should be plenty of space.

However, if you want to shell out a little bit more, 1TB will give you more than enough space for your OS and your applications and can serve as an even-faster ‘scratch disk’ for any of your files.

With an M.2 drive, you’ll be able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data in seconds.

It’s insane how fast these hard drives are.

However, it’s important to know that there are different types of M.2 drives that exist. They’re different based on the port that they utilize — and at the end of the day, a hard drive is only as fast as the port that it is plugged into.

When a piece computer hardware is slowed down by the actual port that it is plugged into, this is called a ‘bottleneck’. It essentially means that the hardware can perform faster than the connection that it is routed through.

M.2 Hard Drives: PCIe vs. SATA

The ‘bottleneck’ to be aware of with M.2 drives is the actual connection to the motherboard. M.2 SSD Drives are available in two flavors: PCIe and SATA.

⚠️ What is the difference between M.2 SATA and M.2 NVMe?

First of all, M.2 drives are solid-state drives. M.2 is simply a form factor of a solid state drive. Therefore, just because a hard drive is an M.2, doesn’t necessarily make it “faster” than a SSD. They are one and the same.

M.2 have two types. SATA-based and NVMe-based — and they have drastically different connection speeds. SATA is an older technology (which is why even hard disk drives are connected via SATA connections), whereas NVMe is a newer and faster technology.

If you want the fastest available hard drive on the market, the way to go is an NVME M.2 drive.

Most laptops have internal M.2 SATA ports — in fact, many modern WiFi cards in your machine are connected to the motherboard via an M.2 SATA port.

Diagrammatically, the differences between an M.2 SATA and a M.2 NVMe looks like this:

M.2 | SATA

Maximum data transfer rate = 6 Gbps

All SATA drives require two cables to work — one for power, and one for data transfer. Hence, you’ll see two notches in a SATA M.2 solid-state drive. It doesn’t operate as fast as a NVMe, however, it helps to eliminate cable clutter and other transfer speed bottlenecks.

M.2 | NVMe

Maximum data transfer rate = 20 Gbps

A NVMe M.2 solid-state drive plugs into a PCIe bus. Currently, this type of connection yields the fastest data transfer speeds. You will like see significant operating speed increases by using an NVMe M.2 solid-state drive, and file transfers of all sizes are nearly instantaneous.

Jon’s System: M.2 Solid State Drive
Best Solid State Drive for Architects and Designers

➤ 500GB of storage
➤ Operating system + applications
➤ Sometimes use as “scratch disk” for high-demand processes

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best available hard drives that you can use to make your own hybridized file storage system.

💡 Best Hard Drives for Architects and Designers:

Consider the numbers below as internal ports to which you can connect hard drives to your machine. This is not to be confused with “external” ports. Internal ports connect your hard drive directly to the motherboard, and these ports are not accessible outside of the machine chassis. “External” ports are most commonly USB connections. Most new laptops have at least 2 internal ports, and desktop computers will have even more internal ports to which you can connect hard drives.

Here’s what I recommend. If you’re interested in setting up a hybridized file storage system:

Step 1: Check your computer to see what internal ports are available.

Step 2: Consider these options:

I earn a commission if you click these links and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

Best 3.5″ Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

🕛 Long-term Storage

Best Solid State Drive (SSD)

⌛ Short-term Storage

Best M.2 NVMe Hard Drive (SSD)

⚡️ Best M.2 NVMe Hard Drive

Best M.2 SATA Hard Drive (SSD)

⚡️ Best M.2 SATA Hard Drive

Best 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

🕛 Long-term Storage

To make a hybridized file storage system, you only have to select two of the hard drives mentioned above and use them in combination within your system. I highly suggest you use three hard drives in your system. If the motherboard in your computer can accommodate that many internal hard drives, it’s a worthwhile investment.

Nonetheless, you can always start with the cheaper option.

This would be a standard HDD + SATA SSD combination. In the future, you can always convert your hard drives into an “external” hard drive by using a hard drive enclosure.

Final Thoughts

Solid-state drives are becoming more and more affordable as the technology continues to develop, and Hard Disk Drives are beginning to phase out as a result.

The future of hard drive storage is solid-state memory, so I would strongly advice you consider spending a bit more cash to give you some peace of mind for future-proofing your system.

That being said, if you’re totally committed to creating the best possible file storage system (a hybridized file storage system!), then grab a couple of the hard drives I mentioned above.

The next thing you should check out is a cloud storage service to add an additional layer of file protection — which is what saved me 3 years worth of data when my original hard drive crashed. I cover my experience using a handful of popular cloud storage services, and you should check them out!

What are your thoughts on using hybridized hard drive systems? Let me know in the comments below!

Jon Henning

Hi, I'm Jon. I write about emerging technology in architecture, engineering and design, and I want to help you push boundaries with the latest tech trends in the AEC industry.

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