How to Choose a Hard Drive? Buying Guide!

Gone are the days when everything was written by hand and stacks of papers were stored in clear files. Nowadays, our main storage of information is the computer. Or rather, its hard drive, where all the data is located, and from which we can open it at any time.

For many years, the HDD format hard disk was the standard, working on the basis of rotating platters and recording heads. Recently, however, this way of writing and reading is beginning to give way to more modern SSD architecture. It is characterized by a longer service life and greater speed. There are few things worse than when key work data that you need to work with in a very short time is irretrievably deleted. We cover both formats on separate pages with a comparison of the best products.

We will explain the fundamental differences between SSD and HDD in this article. You will also learn what to focus on when choosing a hard drive and whether to choose, for example, an external or internal hard drive. We will also help you with the complex terms and various names associated with this product. If you’re interested in working with data, you might also be interested in our NAS comparison.

How to choose a hard drive

In this article, we will focus primarily on the most important division of hard drives into external and internal storage. We will describe further differences and different ways of use in the chapter on SSD and HDD disks. Last but not least, we will advise you on the size of the memory as well as the physical memory, evaluate various interfaces and offer a formula for calculating the ideal price-capacity ratio.

If you are currently choosing a suitable hard drive for your computer, then read the following lines carefully. First of all, here you will find the already indicated division of storage units together with a detailed description of their advantages and disadvantages. When choosing a hard drive, it will always depend on what you want to use it for, what you expect from it and what data you want to store on it. So there is no single ideal hard drive. You always have to decide mainly according to your preferences and price requirements.

Internal vs. external

One of the basic ways of dividing disks is into internal and external storage. While in previous times, external drives offered only a fraction of the capacity of the components stored in the guts of the computer, in recent years both types have completely equalized in terms of capacity. The fundamental lack of external devices remains relatively low bandwidth, which fundamentally limits the speed of transfer and storage. This is to some extent trying to solve the latest external drive interface, or how to connect a hard drive to a computer. Probably everyone knows the most famous USB of various generations. The disk can communicate with the computer, for example, via FireWire or ThunderBolt interfaces.

Internal hard drives, which tend to be placed among computer components, connect through a port on the motherboard and usually act as the main data storage. They are especially important when you need to work with data stored in a certain place without major delays. The suspected negative is only the limited possibility of transferring the complete contents of the disc to another device.

Internal vs External HDD
Internal hard drive External hard drive

External storage, on the other hand, stands out for its excellent mobility. They are especially useful if you work with data in different places and need to access it even on completely foreign machines. You have to take into account the aforementioned slow transfer, which can take tens of minutes for disks with extreme capacity. Therefore, we definitely do not recommend using this type as the main drive for home computers.

When choosing between an external and an internal drive, it will always depend primarily on what you want to use it for. If you are looking for a part of a computer or laptop, choose an internal drive, if you are looking for some kind of storage that you can take with you everywhere and will not depend on one specific device, then you should rather reach for an external drive. There are many of these on the market today and they are very popular. Therefore, we have prepared a separate comparison for them, and you can learn more about them in the article How to choose an external drive.

HDD vs. SSD

When choosing, you will come across hard drives in two different technological designs. In simple terms, we can say that HDDs are a cheaper option and SSDs are faster. However, the division is not so clear-cut and both variants have other advantages and disadvantages, which we will try to briefly describe.

HDD, Hard Disk Drive in English, is one of the constants in the field of data storage, with the first specimens appearing as early as the 1950s. Since then, they have been in a constant process of improvement. However, the principle did not change much – moving metal plates covered with a magnetic layer, which the recording head constantly works with.

In contrast, SSDs (Solid-State Drives) store data on flash memory, well known from external drives of the same name. They have experienced great development mainly in recent years and are gradually succeeding in displacing classic mechanical discs, although their complete replacement is not yet an option.

The following table provides a clear comparison:

ParameterHDDSSD
Capacity500 GB – 2 TB for laptops, up to 10 TB for desktop PCsMaximum 1 TB for laptops, 4 TB for desktop PCs
Write and read speed50-120 MB per secondOver 200 MB per second
Opening speedSlowerUp to 30% faster
Service life5 years10 years
Power consumption6-7 W per minute2-3 W per minute
VibrationOccasional, especially with older drivesNone
NoiseAudibleNone
Effect of magnetismIt can erase dataNone

From the overview, it might seem that the SSD is the clear winner of the comparison, as it reigns supreme in most parameters. But that’s not quite the case. Ultimately, the final decision should come down to your individual needs.

HDD is a reasonable choice when:

  • You need a lot of capacity
  • You don’t want to spend a lot of money
  • You don’t decide how fast the computer accesses the data

Choose an SSD when:

  • You need the fastest read and write speed possible
  • You don’t require extremely large capacity
  • You don’t care about the purchase price

In this article, we do not want to burden you with full details and dedicate it only to the issue of SSD and HDD disks, to which SSHD technology has also been added, which represents a certain combination of these two types. In short, if you decide on one of them based on the information mentioned above, or if you are only interested in these technologies in more depth, read the specific articles How to choose an SSD disk and How to choose an HDD disk. In them, we separately deal with each variant in much more detail.

Capacity

Another question mark is the capacity of the hard drive. It depends on the type of data that will be written to the drive. There will definitely be a difference between the capacity to store a few photos from your vacation and the capacity needed to store dozens of hours of recorded video. In general, the higher the capacity, the better. However, you have to take into account that you have to pay for each additional GB of space.

Disk capacities usually range from 160 GB to 4 TB. Extremely large storages offering enough space for up to 10 TB are usually unnecessary for the average home or business user. If you need enough space for common applications and data, then roughly 320 GB is enough. Gamers should choose drives with at least 1-2TB capacity, as a single game can currently be as large as 120GB.

The advantage of classic computers is the possibility to increase the existing capacity with an additional disk. Using a pair of drives is definitely worth it, as one of the drives can serve as a backup drive for storing sensitive data. Laptop owners have to make do with an external drive or memory card, which are usually connected via the corresponding interface, which is usually USB.

Size

Virtual capacity is one thing, but physical size is a different story altogether. You definitely have to take her into account when choosing. In practice, you may encounter two different sizes, namely 2.5″ and 3.5″ for internal hard drives. Their dimensions differ according to the type of device in which they find their place, as well as according to the type of technology used.

2.5-inch drives are used in portable computers that are designed to take up as little space as possible. This size is the same for both HDD and SSD, and it is precisely the smaller size that is justified by the usually lower capacity of storage units in notebooks.

In the case of desktop computers, larger HDDs are used, i.e. 3.5″. A larger size increases the recording area, thus also the capacity of the storage itself. SSD devices, on the other hand, stay at 2.5 inches and require the purchase of a special adapter to fit into older computers that have 3.5″ connectors.

In the case of external devices, one more is added to the two previous dimensions, namely 1.8″. An important fact is that 1.8″ and 2.5″ drives are powered directly via the USB interface, 3.5″ drives need a separate adapter. And along with it, the connection to the power source.

Interface

In order for the drive to be able to communicate with the rest of the computer, it uses an interface that connects to the motherboard. Currently, we can meet SATA and SCSI sockets, while disks supporting the older ATA format are still being sold. There is no need to unnecessarily explain the exact principle of operation of these interfaces, it is important to know that the type of disk should always correspond to the interface on the motherboard.

In the case of external devices, in the vast majority of cases you will encounter a USB interface version 2.0 or later 3.0. Firewire systems, which appear in tablets and ultrabooks, are less used. The pinnacle is the Thunderbolt system, used in the corporate sphere for the rapid transfer of a huge amount of information.

The interface used greatly affects the speed of data transfer and writing. From this point of view, it offers the best features of SATA, which is well-usable for both HDD and SSD storage. In the case of classic plate technology for HDD disks, the number of revolutions also has a great influence. The bigger, the faster the drive actually works.

What to watch out for

The obligatory factor, however, which usually acquires the greatest importance, is the price. On the market, it is currently possible to find storage in prices ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of crowns. They differ in the type of technology used, resistance, interface, but especially in their capacity. In general, the larger the free space, the more expensive the device.

A good way to calculate the value of the purchase is to divide the price by the number of GB. This gives you the price per gigabyte. So, if you are choosing between two models for $120, with one having a capacity of 1 TB (1,000 GB) and the other 640 GB, then it is logically more advantageous to buy the first one. However, such a method is only applicable when comparing products of one technology, it is impossible to compare HDD and SSD, because the price of SSD drives is significantly more expensive. You have to take into account the fact that you pay extra for a higher speed.

Price

In terms of price, hard drives can be divided into three groups. We recommend using the formula mentioned above to find the best ratio per GB of free space. Capacity and the use of HDD or SSD technology play a major role in assessing the price. A secondary parameter is the interface used, which is not so important for the average user.

Therefore, before making the choice, think about what you use the computer for and how much free space you need at once. Accordingly, you should choose the appropriate technology and disk size.


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Md Shah
By Md Shah

Md Shah is a technology buff since an early age, where he specialized and graduated in Information Technology from FATEC and now helps people on the internet with several tips and product reviews. He has published articles on different Tech Blogs and Websites.


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