eMMC vs. SSD: Know the difference before buying a laptop

What's the difference between eMMC and SSD storage?

Storage in a laptop or tablet is a big deal. It's usually one of the big features advertised by a manufacturer, but it's also one of the spots where a big number (1TB!) can hide some lesser-known hardware terms that will affect the device's overall performance. In the case of budget laptops, you'll often see storage advertised as eMMC. Let's take a look at how it compares to SSD storage, and why you might want to skip it.

What is eMMC storage?

What is eMMC storage?

MultiMediaCard (MMC) storage was the precursor to what we now commonly know as Secure Digital (SD) storage. MMC still exists, but you'll no doubt find its embedded version much more often.

Embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) storage is mostly found in phones, as well as compact, budget laptops or tablets. 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.

Despite both containing a type of NAND memory, SSDs and eMMC storage are quite different.

How fast is eMMC storage?

The current standard for eMMC storage is 5.1, which can effectively deliver transfer speeds of up to about 400MB/s. That's not necessarily a slow speed, as SATA SSDs will top out around the same.

However, it's not just 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.

Samsung SSD

This Samsung PCIe SSD is FAST.

Think of it like a road — the more lanes, 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 line 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 SSD. Samsung's lineup of EVO and PRO SSDs can respectively reach read speeds of up to 3,200MB/s and 3,500MB/s. Write speeds are a bit slower — 1,900MB/s and 2,100MB/s respectively — but still much, much faster than eMMC storage.

How big can you get eMMC storage?

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 storage. eMMC storage works best with small file sizes (those holes in the bucket don't clog 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 terabytes. They are also usually much 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.

Check out Microsoft OneDrive pricing plans

Should you avoid eMMC storage?

CHUWI 14.1 LapBook is an awesome budget laptop.

CHUWI's 14.1 LapBook is an awesome budget device with eMMC storage.

Cheaper, smaller eMMC storage isn't necessarily bad. There's definitely a market for it, especially in the budget laptop category. As far as durability goes, you'll no doubt see a display or touchpad crap out on you 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 cheap 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.

Samsung 960 EVO

Grab a fast SSD if you like your laptop's performance snappy.

If you plan on using a laptop for pretty much anything else — including gaming and word processing or productivity — you'll no doubt want to grab 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.

A hard-disk drive 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.

More resources

If this talk about eMMC and SSD storage has you thirsty for more information, we have a bunch of other guides on the same topic. Check them out!