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How to Choose a Hard Drive

April 17th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Buying New Stuff

How to Choose a Hard Drive

Hard drives come in many shapes and sizes.  When contemplating the correct hard drive for an upgrade or a replacement, you have some important choices to consider.  Should you go with a larger hard drive or a faster hard drive?  Should you pick a Solid State Drive, or a cheaper conventional hard drive?  Maximum performance at high-power consumption, or perhaps a more energy efficient drive instead?

The criteria you will need to establish before deciding on a drive is the ultimate role of the disk.  Will it be going in a laptop, or a desktop?  Laptops require a more minimalistic approach to storage- and power consumption.  Desktops don’t have the same space or power limitations.

Laptops have power constraints, so the norm is typically a 4200 RPM of a 5400 RPM drive.  The slower the hard drive, the less power it consumes; simple physics.  You can’t get something for free; the same is true of speed.  A faster hard drive will directly translate to a lower battery life; hard drives consume a lot of power.  Every time you move or access a file, or run a program, your hard drive is spinning.

Desktops have more power to spare, and are therefore capable of having faster hard drives.  7200 RPM or faster is the norm for desktops; in fact some people even have 10000 RPM or 15000 RPM drives.  These drives consume a lot more power obviously, however have slightly faster read and write, i.e. access times.  A faster drive doesn’t translate directly into programs running faster; once a program is loaded into RAM and it is run directly from memory, the hard drive is no longer the limiting factor for speed.  Graphics, the processor, or RAM will then become the limiting factor.  You can run the Windows Experience Index if you are interested in which component is the limiting factor in your computer.

A faster hard drive will however directly translate into faster file recall, programs opening faster, files copying quicker, and ultimately faster file transfer speeds.  Some people need these; most people don’t and can get by just fine on a 7200 RPM hard drive.  It’s up to you to determine if the extra cost is worth it.

If money isn’t really a problem, you might want to look into Solid State Drives, also known as SSDs.  In fact, if you are building a new computer, my recommendation is to use at least a SSD for the operating system.  Solid State Drives offer significant speed improvements over conventional spinning hard drives, and since they have no moving parts, they consume a lot less power.  However, SSDs are expensive.  The price of a SSD scales higher directly with the size of the drive.  Since large drives (500 GB +) can be cost prohibitive, it is common to buy a smaller drive (100 GB or less) and install just the operating system and all necessary OS files on it.  Then you can use a larger drive to store all of your files.  This method gives you the best of both worlds; the OS installed on a SSD making it lighting fast, and a larger more cost effective drive to store all of your files.  You can also buy hybrid SSD/HDD drives also called H-HDDs.  Hybrid drives are less expensive than a large SSD, and are divided into two main partitions, one smaller to run the OS, and the other larger side for your actual media files.


Hard drives are usually almost always getting cheaper with time.  Assuming there isn’t a natural disaster in Thailand, the price per GB is usually dropping with time for conventional hard drives.  SSDs are still newer; therefore they are not subject to the same economics.  Demand can sometimes outstrip supply and vice versa, causing temporary price fluctuations.

Just keep in mind what you need, and what your budget is.  Hard drives can last many years, so it is common not to replace your hard drive until is starts experiencing the warning signs of impending failure.  See article: “Hard Drive Warning Signs” filed under Easy Tips.

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