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

Best answer: Though embedded MultiMediaCard (eMMC) and solid-state drive (SSD) storage have a lot in common, including the use of NAND flash memory, 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.

What is eMMC storage?

What is eMMC storage?

MultiMediaCard (MMC) storage was the precursor to what is commonly known as Secure Digital (SD) storage. MMC still exists, but you'll no doubt find its embedded version (eMMC) 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?

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

The current standard for eMMC storage is v5.1A, which can effectively deliver transfer speeds of up to about 400 MB/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 SSD. Some of the top performers in this class can reach read speeds up to 3,500 MB/s. Write speeds are a bit slower — up to about 3,300 MB/s — but still much, much faster than eMMC storage.

How big does eMMC storage get?

Surface GoThe Surface Go is available in a 64 GB 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 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.

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 Go. 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 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.

Samsung SSD

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.

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.

Best M.2 PCIe SSD

Samsung 970 EVO Plus

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 3,500 MB/s and 3,300 MB/s respectively, and enjoy a 5-year warranty for a worry-free experience.

Best 2.5-inch SATA SSD

Samsung 860 EVO

A larger SATA SSD with excellent performance

If your device is set up for a larger 2.5-inch SSD, Samsung again offers excellent performance, long-lasting build quality, and a 5-year warranty. Get read and write speeds respectively up to 550 MB/s and 520 MB/s.

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