What to look for when buying a new hard drive

As the amount of data we consume steadily increases, so does the storage space we require in our PCs or laptops.

In addition to our growing capacity needs, performance has also become a major consideration – with solid state drives (SSDs) becoming standard as boot drives.

Gamers or professionals requiring quick access to large media files may use higher-capacity SSDs as primary storage, but many users still rely on mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs) for bulk storage.

When buying a new HDD, you might be tempted to assume all mechanical drives are similar and choose the cheapest drive available.

HDDs have continued to evolve however, and you should carefully look at all the specifications available to determine whether an HDD is suitable for your needs.

Cloud storage provider Backblaze has provided comprehensive points to consider when buying a new HDD.

We have summarised the key specifications and factors to consider when buying a new hard drive below.


Enterprise vs Consumer

Most lower-priced hard drives are aimed at consumers and do not feature the unique features of enterprise drives.

This is usually worth it for many consumers, but if you are seeking improved reliability, a longer warranty period, and faster performance, you might be better off selecting the enterprise version of a drive.

Backblaze’s hard drive reliability data showed that the failure rate of a consumer drive was consistently higher than its equivalent enterprise model.

This may not make a major difference if you are just buying a drive for standard desktop use, but a powerful workstation or gaming PC used on a daily basis may benefit from the increased performance and reliability of an enterprise drive.


Reliability

No hard drive lasts forever, and you should always consider the reliability of the drive you are purchasing.

This is especially true if you will be storing important files on the drive or will be using it as a backup for your primary storage.

One of the easiest ways to determine the reliability of a hard drive is its warranty period and MTBF specification.

MTBF stands for mean time between failures, and refers to the average number of service hours between failures.

The higher this specification is, the more likely the hard drive is to be reliable.


Recording Technology

Many HDD buyers may not realise that there are different types of recording technology which each have their own trade-offs.

The most common type of recording technology is Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), which writes and reads data from circular tracks on a spinning platter.

There is another technology named Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR), which overlaps recording tracks to store data at a lower cost.

This means that SMR drives can cost less than their PMR counterparts, but will experience more write delays and lower peak average performance.

It can be difficult to determine the recording technology of a hard drive from its product listing, but buyers should remain wary of cheap drives and double-check which technology they use on the manufacturer’s website.


Helium vs Air

After years of development, helium-filled mechanical hard drives are beginning to become widely available.

These drives have two advantages – they generate less heat and use less power than normal hard drives.

However, they are more expensive than their conventional counterparts – with a price premium of around 20%.

This means that unless you are using these drives in a data centre or other high-volume environment, there is no reason to choose a helium-filled drive over an air-filled HDD.


Capacity and Speed

The two most important factors to consider when buying a new HDD are the general capacity and the read/write speed.

Most hard drives feature similar, capped-out read and write speeds, but it is important to choose a 7,200RPM drive if you want the best performance possible.

When it comes to capacity, it is generally better to err on the side of caution and get a bigger drive than necessary, as long as you don’t sacrifice any performance or reliability.

This is especially true for media professionals and gamers, where the size of media and game installation files continues to increase each year.

When it comes to selecting a hard drive brand, Backblaze’s hard drive reliability tests can provide an overview of product reliability.


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What to look for when buying a new hard drive