What's the best hard drive to buy? Your hard drive is out of date if its capacity is measured in gigabytes. Even a terabyte of space can seem cramped when you're stockpiling your movies, music and photograph collections.
Two terabytes isn't a bad starting point unless you're heavily into editing movies, and with prices tumbling, you don't have to pay much to enjoy excellent performance.
At the moment, buying a hard drive gives you exactly two choices: a flash-based SSD, or a regular mechanical drive. The key difference is that, while SSD offers far superior performance, it comes with a price to match and you only get a few tens of gigabytes before the cost ceases to be effective.
Traditional drives are much slower, but hold far, far more, and in most cases you simply don't need the extra performance. Everything will still work just fine, just not quite as quickly.
As long as you're not used to the speed of Windows booting from SSD though, you're unlikely to chafe at even a mid-range drive's performance. There's plenty of life in the traditional style yet, and it remains the best way to handle your electronic life.
We've gathered together six of the best hard drives, offering 1.5TB or more at assorted price points, designed for single-desktop use or RAID servers.
In practice, the main difference between the two types of drive is the tolerances they're built for, which shouldn't be particularly important for the home. However, these drives and their energy saving features can really come into their own in bulk, especially in an enterprise setting.
Samsung SpinPoint EcoGreen F4EG - £66
Western Digital RE4 2TB Enterprise - £184
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB - £57
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB - £124
Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000 - £98
Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB - £189
Hard drive tests
Samsung SpinPoint EcoGreen F4EG
Samsung may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think about hard drives, but it has an extensive range of drives for the desktop market.
Not only that, it can also claim a world first with the SpinPoint F4EG, as it was the first to market (a claim that may well be disputed by Western Digital), with the best areal density of any drive in its class (5,400rpm).
Western Digital RE4 2TB Enterprise
You may have just glanced a the price for Western Digital's RE4-GP and started wondering if the pricing structure has been caught in a time warp.
All is not as it seems though, because the RE4-GP line are unusual hybrids - the Caviar Green series meets an Enterprise drive, with all the power-saving of the first and reliability of the latter.
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB
Seagate's 11th generation 1.5TB Barracuda 7200.11 hard disk was the first 1.5TB disk to market, and although it's been around for a while, it's still a very capable and popular drive.
It's easy to see why, with its combination of performance, capacity, price and fairly low power consumption.
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
Seagate's Barracuda XT was the first drive with a SATA 6Gbps interface. SATA6 - or SATA Rev 3.0 to give it its proper title - hasn't set the world on fire, mainly because mechanical drives have only just reached the 150MB/s transfer rate limit of the original SATA interface, never mind SATA 3Gb/s.
Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000
Hitachi was notably absent when the first 2TB drives were introduced, but it has a real trick up its sleeve in the in the shape of the Deskstar 7K2000.
It's the first 2TB drive to ship with a 7,200RPM spindle speed, which puts it firmly in the camp of high performance mechanical drives.
Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB
The capacity of three terabytes is what really makes this Western Digital Caviar Green HDD stand out, but there's more to it than size.
For instance, alongside the hefty capacity you'll find a 64MB buffer for improved performance across the board. Western Digital has also employed various technologies to keep the drive temperature down and noise to whisper-quiet levels.
Hard drive benchmarks
The best hard drive is...
There's no such thing as too much space, but the first time you get your hands on couple of terabytes, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. In picking our winners therefore, we didn't simply look at size, but performance and cost too.
In most cases, you won't notice a few milliseconds here or there any more than a few extra gigabytes - but over the course of a drive's lifetime, they build up quickly. You also have to be sure that you're buying a reliable enough drive to warrant your trust - it will, after all, be where you put all your most important files.
There's little point shelling out for an enterprise level drive though - they're typically very similar in spec, and the build quality differences aren't huge. Here, then, are our choices…
Samsung SpinPoint EcoGreen F4EG - Editor's choice
A surprisingly powerful performer, at an incredibly low price. We honestly didn't expect this one to do so well, but the tests speak for themselves. Not only does it give you more space than you're likely to need, it's one of the fastest drives you're going to find without spending a small fortune. Whether the green credentials matter to you or not, this is a fine storage boost.
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB - Performance award
You'll need a motherboard that supports 6Gb/s SATA or a suitable add-in card, but if you're all set up, you can enjoy a very efficient 7,200rpm hard drive with plenty of space and a 600MB/s transfer rate. Not all of the specs are that powerful, but if you're set up for this drive, you'll be set up for the ones that inevitably give the other parts of the drive the necessary polish.
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB - Value award
A surprisingly good performer, at an excellent price. It may not give you the full 2TB like some of the other drives, but 1.5TB is nothing at all to be sniffed at. You don't lose out on the all-important performance, with the Barracuda 7200.11's tests all serving up very respectable times and statistics. Install a couple of these and you'll have 3GB for practically nothing.
First published in PC Plus Issue 305
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