Your guide to buying a new hard drive

So your old hard drive has died, taking with it all of your hard earned and much loved data. You’ve used our online price guide to get your quote, and you’ve sent your device off to us, so we can work our magic and get it back for you. That’s one big problem sorted, but now you have another looming over the horizon. You need a new hard drive. Solid state drives (or SSDs) have become standard over time for boot drives, and you may well use one if you’re a big gamer or use your device for intensive professional work, but most of us are still relying on hard disk drives for our bulk storage. In shopping around for your new HDD you can fall into a common trap of assuming all mechanical drives are pretty much the same, and picking up the cheapest version you can find and assuming it’ll do the job. This could prove a costly mistake though, and there are a number of important points and specifications to consider when you’re shopping for your new drive.

Enterprise or Consumer

You might notice that there are two different models of hard drive sold by most major manufacturers and wonder exactly what the difference is. Well, consumer model hard drives are usually lower-priced and aimed at a more entry level user. They boast features like quiet operation, a low price per gigabyte, and reasonable overall performance and can be found in desktops and laptops as well as some lower-cost workstations.

Enterprise drives, on the other hand, are usually made from top quality materials to keep out dust, minimise vibrations and reduce heat. They can come with high read speeds for storage servers, or high write speeds for use with large video streams like surveillance or video production. They also offer a longer warranty period, faster performance and dramatically higher levels of reliability.

The failure rate of a consumer drive is consistently higher than its equivalent enterprise model. You’re essentially paying more for a drive that will last longer, any many find that the peace of mind that comes from using an enterprise drive helps mitigate the higher upfront costs. Its up to you to decide which drive is right for you, but if you’re just buying a drive for standard desktop use and not a powerful workstation or gaming PC that will be running constantly, a consumer drive should work fine.

How reliable is it?

As we’ve touched on already, reliability can be determined by the model of the hard drive and enterprise models are certainly more reliable than consumer. Reliability is also commonly measured by the warranty period of a drive and its MTBF specification. MTBF stands for mean time between failures and refers to the average number of service hours between failures. The higher the MTBF spec, the more likely it is that the drive will prove to be reliable. If you’re storing important files on the device you should seriously consider the reliability of the drive you are purchasing and keep an eye on the warranty associated with it. On consumer lines a healthy warranty is around three years, but cheaper varieties might be as little as one - these should be avoided as its usually a bad sign. Enterprise models are commonly around the five-year warranty mark, and some companies like Samsung even offer ten-year warranties on their Pro line of drives.

How much space do you need?

One of the most important factors to consider when buying a new HDD is the general capacity and how large or small it is. When it comes to storage space on your drive, its safest to assume that bigger is better and you should always plump for a slightly bigger capacity than you think you need. Most casual users would be perfectly happy with 250 to 320GBs of storage – as little as 250GB can hold more than 30,000 average size photos or songs. If you're planning on storing movies too, then you should look to upgrade to at least 500GB, maybe even 1TB if you’re serious about space. Gamers, for example, will be familiar with the fact that game installation files continue to increase each year and should be mindful of the toll this will take on their hard drive space. Though you should buy the largest drive you think you could possibly need, you should remember to not don’t sacrifice any performance or reliability in pursuit of it.

How fast should it go?

The speed your hard drive works at is based on the platter density and the RPM associated with it. Platter density is dictated by the generation of hard drive and the age of it, as hard drives get faster, cheaper and bigger their recording density increases, so newer disks are invariably a better choice. RPM tends to be set inside the category your device is at and isn’t generally something that can be tweaked. 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.

Helium or Air

Helium filled hard drives have only been commercially available for five years, since HGST sold their first 6TB high capacity hard drive in November 2013. Since then, their capacity has grown dramatically, and you can easily pick up a 14TB helium-filled hard drive on the internet for your own personal use. Whether you need one is another story. The idea behind them is the fact that helium is an incredibly light gas, far lighter than air, so when the platters spin through helium there should be less drag and therefore less energy needed to spin the platters. They generate far less heat and use less power than their counterparts and are quoted as being a full 20% more efficient. They’re also a full 20% more expensive. Unless your new drive will be part of an intensive data centre and see a lot of high volume use, there’s no need to splurge on a helium-filled version until the price becomes more competitive.

Now you know what to look out for in your new hard drive, just remember to back up your data by uploading it to the cloud and by keeping a physical copy!