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Hard disk drives are the primary storage system in most households because they provide high capacity at a low cost. Although their speed has improved little by little, they will never reach that of solid-state drives (SSD). However, the high cost per gigabyte of SSDs means that hard drives remain a staple for home storage. Our advice is to have both of them on your PC (if you can): a hard drive for mass storage and an SSD for the operating system and applications.
Things to know before buying a hard drive
The brand is usually not indicative of the quality of a particular model, although there is one brand that is recognized for the quality of its hard drives, and is HGST (Hitachi Global Storage Technologies). It was a subsidiary of Hitachi now part of Western Digital, but the two companies keep their development and sales separately. Among the other companies in the sector (Western Digital, Toshiba and Seagate), there are no studies that can indicate which models are more or less reliable, so you can’t go wrong with one or the other.
Hard Drive Speed
The speed advertised by manufacturers is the maximum sequential read/write speed. This usually ranges from 150 to 220 MB/s. Hard drives are good for storing large amounts of information that are spread across large files, but an excess of small files is their Achilles heel.
SSDs solve these problems with faster access times and high transfer rates, but they are noticeably more expensive. While there are hard drives with a cost per gigabyte around 3 cents, SSDs have a cost of around 30 cents a gigabyte for a 250GB model. Thus, they are not a viable solution for storing large amounts of information, and therefore hard drives will continue to exist.
Hard drive cache
The cache size does not have a direct impact on the performance of a hard drive in normal use, such as playing games or watching videos. Larger capacity hard drives have a larger cache size; most modern hard drives have 64MB of cache, and bigger models reach 128MB, with older models having just 32MB.
Hybrid hard drives include a small amount of flash type cache, which is the same memory used by solid-state drives (SSDs). The operating system and the hard drive manage their usage, and usually leave frequently used files in this flash cache. It improves performance quite a bit, but only for the files that are stored in the cache.
Hard drive size
Hard drives come in two sizes. The typical 3.5-inch drives are quite heavy, ranging from 400 to 800g and measure 147×101.6×26.1mm. 2.5-inch hard drives measure 100x70mm, are 7 to 15mm thick and are mostly used in laptops.
Others things to consider when buying a hard drive
Halfway between hard drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD) there are hybrid hard drives (SSHD) that integrate a small SSD where they store the most recently used apps and files to speed up the process.
There are also hard drives for NAS: NAS (Network Attached Storage) are small computers that allow you to share files on a network and they use one or more hard drives. Please be aware that these drives are specifically designed for a NAS. Although it is technically possible to install NAS hard drives inside a PC, this practice is generally not recommended as the NAS disks may have features that do not make them any better on a desktop system (e.g. they could be designed for reduced noise and heat output rather than maximum performance).
In addition to NAS disks, there are also hard drives for other specific uses. For example, disks belonging to the “Purple” line of Western Digital products are optimized for video surveillance systems and have a high resistance to constant writing of data.
Which internal hard drive to buy
At this point let’s find out which are the best internal hard drives on the market.
Seagate FireCuda: best hybrid hard drive
We hesitated to add it to this list because the Seagate FireCuda (Check on Amazon) is more of an SSD, but not quite. It is not quite a conventional hard disk also. The FireCuda uses the technology of conventional hard drives and combines it with the flash memory of SSDs.
The integrated 8Gb of flash memory improves reading performance by recording the most used files in this area, based on computer usage evaluation algorithms. It also features the usual 64MB cache and runs at 5,400 or 7,200rpm depending on the model. It also comes with a 5-year warranty.
The result is a speed 5 times faster than a conventional hard drive. Sadly its price is also noticeably higher than a normal Seagate Barracuda.
Unlike its competitors, the SSHD Seagate FireCuda is also available in 2.5-inch format. This allows you to use it in a laptop.
In summary, the FireCuda Hybrid SSHD is an excellent alternative to the classic HDD allowing for improved launch times while offering excellent storage capacity.
Western Digital Blue: best budget hard drive
If you are looking for the best price possible for a large capacity hard drive, then the WD Blue (Check on Amazon) is your best choice. This generalist series from Western Digital provides good value for money, with 5400 and 7200rpm speeds according to the specific model, and capacities that range from 1 to 6TB. It also sports 64MB of cache and a maximum sequential read of 150 MB/s.
It’s not the most efficient hard drive in the world, as it uses almost 6W when it’s in use, but for the price you’ll have to make some sacrifices.
It is highly recommended if you want a high-capacity hard drive without added headaches. Since its a budget product it is guaranteed for “just” two years, but the brand is known for its reliability.
Seagate BarraCuda: a valid alternative
The Barracuda (Check on Amazon) is Seagate’s basic hard drive range and the one that provides the best price to capacity ratio (up to 8TB). It’s not the best hard drive, but for normal use it is more than adequate.
At this price you won’t find anything better, and even the cheapest 1TB model comes with 128MB of cache, so it will have a better performance than other budget hard drives.
These drives run at 7200rpm but that makes them a tad noisy. There are also slower versions that run at 5400rpm (less noisy) but are ideal only as secondary storage units (in combination with an SSD).
The Barracudas also have just 2 years of warranty, which is fair considering that WD Blue offer the same.
The Seagate Barracuda is one of the best HDDs to buy for the price. The limited warranty is the same across the board and recent figures seem to support an increase in reliability for these drives.
There are also 2,5″ models for use in a laptop.
Western Digital Black: the best
The WD Black series (Check on Amazon) was created to meet the demands of the most enthusiastic gamers, content creators, and productivity junkies. These hard drives feature better components than the WD Blue series and come with up to 256MB of cache.
The Western Digital Black is built for performance and is accompanied by a 5-year warranty. The price is undoubtedly higher than budget models, but it is an investment that can payout if the rest of the PC’s components are of comparable quality.
The models range from 320GB to 6TB and they are the fastest hard drives in the market… that we find at an acceptable price. If you want a high performing hard drive, for gaming or for professional work, then we recommend the WD Black family.
Seagate BarraCuda Pro: a valid alternative
Seagate’s BarraCuda Pro (Check on Amazon) hard drives are similar to Western Digital’s Black series. They are designed to offer faster data transfer rates at affordable prices. They are also more reliable and have a longer warranty than regular BarraCudas (or WD Blues).
These drives have a rotational speed of 7,200rpm, support 6Gb/s SATA connectivity, are equipped with 128 or 256MB of cache for high transfer rates (250MB/s), and are certified for a maximum workload of 300TB/year (on par with WD Black drives).
Where the BarraCuda Pro outperforms the WD Black is in storage options. They start from 1TB drives and go up to 14TB ones. Be careful, though, because the latter cost quite a bit.
There are SSDs that offer the same amount of storage and double the performance, but their price is also double. The BarraCuda Pro offers the best mix of capacity, performance, reliability, and price and can thus meet the needs of most PC users.
Toshiba X300: best gaming hard drive
The Toshiba X300 (Check on Amazon) is a high-capacity, high-performance internal hard drive designed from scratch for PC gaming. The X300 units boast great value for money without sacrificing performance.
You can choose a storage capacity between 4 and 14TB so you will never have to worry about running out of space. The SATA 3 connectivity and a 7200rpm rotation speed are up to today’s standards, while 128MB or 256MB of cache provides very fast loading times. In fact, its sequential read/write speeds are almost on par with the Seagate FireCuda… a hybrid drive.
This hard drive delivers silent performance and features built-in shock sensor and drive stabilization technology to protect it from damage caused by vibrations. It also has a life expectancy of up to 600,000 hours of use, however, its warranty is just two years.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, the Toshiba X300 is the internal hard drive you should buy.
Seagate IronWolf: best NAS hard drive
Like its direct competitor, the Western Digital Red (Check on Amazon), the Seagate IronWolf (Check on Amazon) bets everything on reliability, not on performance. This is an HDD designed to last and withstand 365/24 use. And unlike what we saw with entry-level models, the Seagate IronWolf is guaranteed for 5 years, which is quite appreciable.
If you have one of the best NAS devices, the Seagate IronWolf is the best hard drive for it.
Western Digital Red: a valid alternative
The Western Digital Red (Check on Amazon) is more expensive than “normal” hard drives (WD Blue /Seagate BarraCuda), but also those created specifically for use in NAS drives. However, and despite only having a rotational speed of 5,400 rpm, its performance (above 200MB/sec in read and write) makes it a smart investment.
Its three-year warranty may seem short, but unlike drives like the BarraCuda Pro and WD Black, the Red was specifically designed to withstand the unique conditions inside a NAS drive.
In fact, thanks to NasWare 2.0, this drive is incredibly reliable providing some of the best protection you can find. The 3D Active Balance Plus technology, for example, grants it a very balanced and silent performance. Thus, the WD Red is capable of running 24/7 while offering an improved MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) by 35%.
Overall, this is a fantastic NAS hard drive.
Seagate Exos: best enterprise hard drive
Both the Exos E and X series (Check on Amazon) offer you the highest reliability for your servers and data-centers. Build with high-quality components, it can withstand workloads of up to 550TB per year in uninterrupted operations, has a reduced power consumption, and offers up to 12TB of capacity.
Designed for the professional market, the Exos features high speeds and large amounts of cache memory. This is an excellent choice but can be difficult to find at a reasonable price.
Western Digital VelociRaptor: the fastest hard drive
When it comes to PC games, fast loading times are important, but so are large capacities. If you don’t want an SSD and instead of looking for the best hard drive, the WD VelociRaptor (Check on Amazon) could be the one for you. Not only does this unit have a rotation speed of 10,000rpm, but it also offers a capacity of up to 1TB. It can store large game libraries and help your games start and load quickly.