eMMC vs. SSD storage: What's the difference?
What is eMMC storage?
MultiMediaCard (MMC) storage was the precursor to what is commonly known as Secure Digital (SD) storage. MMC still exists in multiple forms, but you'll likely find its embedded version (eMMC) most commonly.
eMMC storage is mostly found in phones, as well as some of the best cheap laptops. The "embedded" part of the name comes from the fact that the storage is usually soldered directly onto the device's motherboard. eMMC storage consists of NAND flash memory — the same stuff you'll find in USB thumb drives, SD cards, and solid-state drives (SSD) — which doesn't require power to retain data.
The low-cost nature of eMMC storage makes it ideal for cost-effective hardware, including truly budget PCs. However, it's also found in premium devices like the Surface Go 2.
How fast is eMMC storage?
The current standard for eMMC storage is v5.1A, which can effectively deliver transfer speeds of up to about 400MB/s. That's not necessarily slow, and SATA SSDs will top out around the same.
However, it's not just the overall transfer rate that determines how a device's performance will be affected. eMMC storage usually operates with fewer memory gates than an SSD, meaning it can still deliver at the same speed, just not at the same volume.
Think of it like a road — the more lanes there are, the more cars you can move at a time. eMMC is a single lane each way, while an SSD is a multi-lane highway. You'll go the same speed on either one, but the on-ramp to get onto the road won't be nearly as slow on the highway.
If you'd like storage that can deliver data as fast as possible, you'll want to check out a PCIe NVMe SSD. Some of the best SSDs can reach read speeds up to 3,500MB/s on the PCIe 3.0 standard, while the latest PCIe 4.0 standard nearly doubles the speed. Write speeds are a bit slower in both cases, but still much, much faster than eMMC storage. Check out our review of the XPG Gammix S70 PCIe 4 SSD for more information.
How big does eMMC storage get?
If you've been shopping for a budget laptop or tablet, you've no doubt noticed that many come with either 32GB or 64GB storage. These are the most common sizes of eMMC storage, but you can also find 128GB and 256GB storage. eMMC storage works best with small file sizes (those lanes on the road don't jam up as easily), so if you're often working with large files, you'll no doubt want to look at an SSD.
SSDs are available in much larger sizes, usually from 128GB all the way up to multiple terabytes. They are also usually considerably more expensive. If you're looking at an eMMC drive, always factor in the cost of the cloud storage fees you'll no doubt end up paying for in the end. Sizes like 32GB and 64GB just don't hold up anymore; if the price of cloud storage will come out somewhere around the price of an SSD, you might just be tempted to pay more up front and not worry later.
There's also the matter of upgrading your own PC after purchase. The "embedded" part of eMMC storage means you're not going to be replacing anything, whereas many laptops (not all) have an accessible M.2 slot. This allows you to choose a smaller SSD, saving money at checkout. You can wait for a sale on your preferred storage and upgrade at your leisure, expanding storage without much trouble.
Should you avoid eMMC storage?
Cheaper, smaller eMMC storage isn't necessarily bad. There's definitely a market for it, especially in the budget laptop category with devices like Microsoft's Surface Laptop Go. As far as durability goes, you'll no doubt see a display or touchpad crap out way before eMMC storage degrades to an unusable condition.
Whether or not you should avoid eMMC storage is more based on your budget and what you're using your device for. If you need a tablet or affordable notebook for browsing the internet and watching some streaming media, eMMC storage should be just fine. Keep in mind that eMMC storage is not all made the same, and you'll no doubt want to check reviews for speed benchmarks before making a final decision.
If you plan on using a laptop for pretty much anything else — including gaming and productivity — you'll no doubt benefit from an SSD. Like eMMC storage, not all SSDs are made the same, and there is plenty of slow hardware out there. Read reviews and check benchmarks to ensure you're getting a drive with the speed you require. Our collection of the best SSDs has a bunch of great options.
A hard-disk drive (HDD) is also an option, especially if you're dealing with large file sizes, but in general you'll be much more satisfied with an SSD.
Best M.2 PCIe SSD
Unreal performance at a realistic price
Samsung has long been at the forefront of the SSD market, which continues here. Get read and write speeds rated at 3,500MB/s and 3,300MB/s respectively, and enjoy a five-year warranty for a worry-free experience.
PCIe 4.0 performance
Next-gen PCIe 4.0 speeds
If you have a compatible PC, something like XPG's Gammix S70 PCIe 4.0 SSD will absolutely rock your world. Grab it in 1TB or 2TB sizes.
Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
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