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

Storage in a laptop or tablet is a big deal. It's usually one of the main 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 or ultraportable laptops and tablets, you'll often see storage advertised as eMMC, which stands for embedded MultiMediaCard. Let's take a look at how it compares to solid-state drive (SSD) storage, and why you might want to skip it.

Related: Surface Go 64GB vs. 128GB: Which model should you buy?

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.

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?

Samsung SSD This Samsung PCIe SSD is FAST.

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.

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 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 SSD. Some of the top performers in class can reach read speeds up to 3,500 MB/s. Write speeds are a bit slower — up to about 2,100 MB/s — but still much, much faster than eMMC storage.

How big can you get eMMC storage?

Surface GoThe new Surface Go will be available in a 64GB eMMC configuration.

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 EVOGrab 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 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!

Updated July 24, 2018: We reviewed and refreshed this article to ensure all the information within is still up to date.