Nov 5 2013 - Serial ATA is now standard for all storage drives in desktop computers. While items such as solid state drives threaten to usurp the performance crown, hard drives are still the cheapest and highest capacity way to store data. If you are looking to add more storage to an existing PC or going to build a new PC, hard drives will still be part of it. Here are the best Serial ATA hard drives for various tasks based on the research and experience of the About.com PC Hardware / Reviews Guide.
The highest capacity drives on the market are the four terabyte models. The first came form Hitachi but their pricing is quite high. The Seagate model is surprisingly affordable at just $180 for the bare drive while the competition is over $200. The drive offers a fairly typical set of features including SATA 6.0Gb/s interface, 7200rpm spine rate and 64GB cache. Be warned that some system will not properly support drives of this size without additional software installed. An alternative large capacity drive with lots of performance is the Western Digital Black 4TB drive but it does cost $300 which is a lot more for the same capacity rating.
The best value for a hard drive is one that gives you the best storage for the price. This is typically calculated by the price divided by the storage to yield a price per gigabyte. When using this, the best overall choice for value is the Toshiba DT01ACA 3TB drive. Priced consistently around $120, it comes in with a very low $.04/GB. Performance is reasonable for the drive especially considering its price. Perfect for adding some additional storage or using as a backup drive. If you are looking to get a bit more capacity, then the Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB at $180 is a good option but you really need a 64-bit version of Windows and appropriate hardware to fully use the drive.
Performance is typically determined by the overall spin rate of the drive and the data density. The controllers on the drive can also make a difference particularly if the drive is going to be used for certain tasks such as databases that require a lot of non-sequential data access. For tasks like this, the lower capacity but faster spinning Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB drive offers the best overall performance. In fact, the drive is really a 2.5-inch drive designed for enterprise use that comes in a special 3.5-inch drive tray to help with cooling. Pricing ranges from $230 to $250. If you need capacity as well as performance, than the Western Digital Black 3TB offers a significantly larger capacity with a bit more affordable $220 price.
RAID is a configuration that uses multiple drives to enhance performance, data reliability or both. Because the drives work in tandem and rely on having similar specs to ensure the best overall performance in the array, the drives require a bit more. Those looking to put together a RAID array would be well served by looking at Western Digital'sSE drives. These drives are specially designed to be put into RAID and network attached storage arrays. The 4TB versions is the largest capacity model available and offers solid performance plus a five-year warranty. Pricing is a bit high at $280. Since most consumer RAID uses don't necessarily require this level of performance, just about any other drive in this list in a pair will work well and probably be more affordable. If you need a more affordable model, the 2TB version is just $160.
Hybrid hard drives are not new but they try to bridge the gap between the performance of a solid state drive and the capacity of a traditional hard drive. Seagate has been in the business of hybrid drives the longest and are the most readily available. Their new SuperSpeed 1TB (part of their new Laptop SSHD lineup) offer a very large capacity combined with an 8GB solid state cache to boost performance. Now, they aren't as fast as a solid state drive but it can help with booting and loading frequently used programs especially with non-Windows based systems. It should be noted that this is a 2.5-inch laptop class drive which makes it a good replacement for an older laptop drive but it can also be used in a desktop system as well. Pricing is around $120.