Beginner Hard drive or SSD Guide for Audio Recording and DAW

In a digital audio workstation, all of your recordings would be stored in a digital storage medium with hard drives as the most common storage. The stored digital audio is the digitized version of the analog musical performance. These are converted to digital audio by pulse code modulation(analog to digital conversion) at your audio interface hardware.

This tutorial will cover data storage implementations in digital audio workstation in detail. If you are completely new to setting up your recording studio, you might read this tutorial on the 13 important factors in computer audio recording.

Data Storage Technologies for DAW and their performance

First thing you need to know is to be familiar with common data storage technologies. There are essentially two common data storage medium available to computer. These are:

a.) HDD (Hard disk drive)
b.) SSD (Solid State Drives)



The main difference between the two is that a hard disk drive is a mechanical storage device consisting of circular storage media known as the platters (see the white disc on the above screenshot). It rotates or spins to store and access data. The spindle handling the rotation is driven by a motor.

Due to the physical nature of the hard disk drives, it does play a role in limiting the read and write speed of the data. The access time (the shorter the better) of the hard drive is commonly around 5ms to 10ms. This is defined as the time it takes for the hard drive to actually start transferring data (since it will still need to rotate before it can actually transfer bits).

Another performance factor of a hard disk drive is the seek time. This is the time it takes for the drive to read and write data (search/write data on the drive and transfer bits). Typical (average) seek time for desktop hard drives would be around 9ms.

Finally the last important performance factor would be rotational latency. This is the lag brought about the hard disk drive rotation. The faster the hard drive rotation, the lower the latency. For example HDD rated at 15,000 RPM would have a latency of around 2ms.

Solid State drives do not have any mechanical (or moving) parts. Instead, it consists of several integrated circuit/IC chips (the black rectangular chips you see on the above screenshot) to hold/store the data.

This would make the access time really fast; typically around 0.1ms. The seek time is also very fast because of the absence of moving parts. Typical seek time for SSD can be as fast 0.08ms. And there is no rotational latency for SSD. No mechanical parts would also mean that SSD are indeed super quiet.

Host Interface commonly used with Hard Disk Drive and SSD

Once you hook a data storage device to your computer, it needs to be interfaced with your motherboard and the rest of the components. This is where you need to consider the type of interface. The most common are as follows (assuming internal drive implementation):

1.) IDE/PATA – Integrated Drive Electronics
2.) SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)
3.) SAS – Serial Attached SCSI

IDE is an old and slow technology and replaced by SATA. It’s now a question on deciding whether you want a SATA or a SAS interface.

SATA and SAS are modern host interface that are both really fast. SAS is often used in interfacing computer servers and a lot of mainstream motherboards do not support SAS by default. It is why you don’t find them often in most motherboard specifications for home desktop use. You can find SAS in motherboards designed for server applications.

This goes to say that you should be using SATA interfaces for your home studio computer. Take a look at the screenshot below for these interfaces:

SAS and SATA interface

SAS and SATA interface