eMMC vs. SSD storage: What's the difference?

Crucial P5 Plus
Crucial P5 Plus (Image credit: Windows Central)

eMMC vs. SSD storage: What's the difference?

Best answer: Embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) and solid-state drive (SSD) storage have a lot in common, including using NAND flash memory. However, SSDs almost always deliver superior performance and are available in far larger sizes for bulk storage. In most cases, if you're not shooting for a budget PC, we recommend opting for an SSD over eMMC storage, which is more of an outdated storage option.

What is eMMC storage?

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SanDisk iNAND 7250 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 its embedded version (eMMC) became more common for a while. Nowadays, eMMC is considered more of an outdated storage option. It's faster than an old HDD, but can be slower and have less capacity than an SSD.

eMMC storage was 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 made it ideal for cost-effective hardware, including truly budget PCs. However, it was also found in some premium devices where manufacturers were trying to keep costs down. The older Surface Go 3 is a prime example of a laptop that has an excellent display and high-end design that nevertheless had an eMMC storage option. Similarly, the Steam Deck, which released back in early 2022, is another high-end device that offers eMMC storage alongside SSD storage.

How fast is eMMC storage?

Speed difference between 64GB eMMC and 128GB SSD in the Surface Go.

The latest 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. Many eMMC storage units can operate with fewer memory gates than an SSD, meaning they can still deliver at the same speed, but with a tradeoff of offering less volume. This is why SSD has become the standard storage type today.

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 beyond 3,500MB/s on the PCIe 3.0 standard, while the newer PCIe 4.0 standard can more than double the speed. Write speeds are a bit slower in both cases, but still much, much faster than eMMC storage. PCIe 5.0 is also on the way, which will push speeds even further.

How big does eMMC storage get?

Surface Go 3 features an eMMC and can be used as both a tablet and a laptop. (Image credit: Future)

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 in the end. Sizes like 32GB and 64GB just don't hold up anymore; if the price of cloud storage comes out somewhere around the price of an SSD, you might just be tempted to pay more upfront 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?

Samsung 980 Pro is a PCle 4.0 SSD. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Cheaper, smaller eMMC storage isn't necessarily bad. There's definitely a market for it, especially in the budget laptop category. It's just that it's a storage option that is definitely getting phased out, so your rig will be outdated sooner if you use an eMMC. 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.

Usually, Samsung SSDs are a fantastic choice for your storage needs.  (Image credit: Future)

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.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it. 

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