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Difference Between Flash vs. SSD Storage

Often the terms “Flash Storage” and “SSD” are used interchangeably, but while these technologies both store data, it’s worth knowing some key differences between the two.

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There are many different kinds of digital storage available on the market today. Hard drives or HDDs were quite common in the past but are rarely found as primary storage on modern devices. Instead, most new computers will use solid-state drives or SSDs, which allow for rapid startup times and can quickly transfer large amounts of data. Flash memory is another lightning-fast form of data storage that can be used in a number of ways. Often the terms “Flash Storage” and “SSD” are used interchangeably, but that is an oversimplification and technically untrue. While these technologies both store data, it’s worth knowing some key differences between the two. 

What is Flash Storage?

Sometimes called flash memory, flash storage is non-moving, non-volatile memory. What this means is that there are no moving parts in flash memory and flash devices retain information when powered off and not in use. Flash memory is often a part of another memory device or used within a component as a storage solution. Many different devices can use flash memory, such as flash drives (USB sticks), cell phones, and even solid-state hard drives

Click to learn the difference between flash drives and thumb drives

What is SDD Storage?

Solid-state drives are the most popular form of PC storage today. They are capable of rapid data transfer speeds ideal for such tasks as high-end gaming, professional-level content creation or data analysis. While not all SSDs use flash memory, most modern solid-state drives are comprised of multiple sections of flash storage that work together to operate as quickly as possible. Top-of-the-line SSDs will also have a component called DRAM, which is a dedicated section of the device that operates even faster than flash memory and is used to store commonly used data. 

In data centers, all-flash arrays, also called solid state arrays, are gaining popularity in replace of traditional mechanical hard drives.  Flash arrays are SSD versions of network-attached storage (NAS) or storage area networks (SAN). AFAs and SSAs can reduce complexity, while also increasing efficiency, speed and performance.

Click here to learn more about all-flash arrays and hybrid storage alternatives

Similarities Between Flash and SSD Storage

While there are many differences between flash and SSD storage, it is important to first understand how the two technologies are connected. To put it plainly, most SSDs will use flash memory, but not all flash memory devices are considered SSDs. As mentioned earlier, flash storage can be found in a wide range of devices but is also the main reason solid-state drives are themselves so speedy. Historically speaking, SSDs have existed without the use of flash memory, but these devices were extremely expensive for the time and had many other issues that limited viability. The core similarity between SSDs and flash storage is that there are no moving parts in either technology and that the data stored on both are considered non-volatile.

Difference Between Flash and SSD Storage

To understand the differences between flash and SSD storage, you first need to learn the different varieties of flash storage. Most commonly, there are two kinds of flash storage used today, NOR and NAND. NOR is the older of the two and is physically larger than NAND memory. NAND is more expensive but has a reduced size and faster write speeds, making it the ideal choice for most SSDs.

While flash memory can come in many different form factors, there are only a few varieties of SSDs commonly found in computers today. Those are the standard 2.5” SATA drive and the newer NVMe SSDs, which interface directly into your motherboard. The ladder requires a specific port on your motherboard, while the former uses the standard SATA connection found in many devices. Flash devices such as USB drives or SD cards can be used with an even more comprehensive range of devices but often come in smaller sizes than SSDs. This is because flash memory is commonly used in mobile devices such as handheld game consoles, phones, or digital cameras, where portability is more important than expanded storage size.

Cost and Compatibility

SSDs have been around for much longer than flash storage, but both started similarly and were extremely expensive. Prior to the implementation of flash storage in SSDs, these devices used other memory such as RAM, which is fast like flash memory but is volatile, meaning users would lose all their data when a RAM-based SSD was powered off. In the late 90s and early 2000s, flash memory was becoming more widely available but had staggering price points, especially in larger sizes such as 20MB, which was considered high-end at the time. These days flash memory and SSDs are much more affordable, which has led to them being the ideal choice for most modern devices. As with any storage medium, the cost of SSDs and flash memory grows with the size of storage available. Luckily modern SSDs and flash devices, such as USB drives or external backups, are compatible with most devices and can easily be used for desktops, laptops, game consoles, and a large variety of electronics.


There are many different kinds of storage available today. Flash storage is a popular choice for a wide range of devices because of its rapid speeds, rewritability, and many possible applications. One of the most popular uses for flash memory is inside solid-state hard drives. By using multiple sections of flash memory, SSDs can quickly and efficiently read and write significant amounts of data.

While both forms of storage share many qualities, it is crucial to still differentiate between the two. The best way to sum up the differences between flash memory and SSDs is to think of them as the following: an SSD is a storage device while flash memory is a storage medium. Many devices can use flash memory, but not all devices with flash storage are considered SSDs. Conversely, not all SSDs use flash storage; however, SSDs, regardless of storage technology, will share compatibility across devices. As with any component purchase, it is essential to compare your existing hardware with new devices to ensure viability and compatibility. Speak with the experts at CDW to learn more about the differences between flash memory, SSDs, and the many other storage mediums available today.