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The Best High-Capacity Hard Drives: April 2009 Edition

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/31/2011

Thanks to competition from solid state hard drives, and improvements in mechanical hard drive technology, getting a high-capacity hard drive is cheaper than ever. But not all are created equal, and there is a large difference between the best and worst products.

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    And Yet It Grows

    While mechanical hard drives are routinely being dramatically out-performed by newer solid-state options, mechanical drives still remain the more common choice for two reasons. One is price. Even at their most expensive, mechanical hard drives provide far more storage per dollar than any solid-state drive available. The other major reason is capacity. It can be annoying to have numerous hard drives. Though the average user may be satisfied with a single 500GB drive, a real data-hog may have need of storage rated in terabytes rather than gigabytes. If you're such a person, than the idea of buying drives under a terabyte in size is probably not appealing, because having to do so would mean having tons of individual hard drives lying about. In addition, many PC cases are limited to use of three or four internal drives, which means that sticking to smaller options will limit your maximum capacity.

    There aren't many options available for a drives larger than one terabyte, particularly when it comes to internal drives, but there are some clear winners. This guide does not stick to internal drives, however; the goal is to round up the three best high-capacity drives, period.

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    Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5 TB Hard Drive

    Western Digital has, after years of battling with other big names like Seagate, gained the crown as the enthusiast's hard-drive of choice. Seagate has not been idle, and has plenty of high-capacity drives as well. But Seagate's recent troubles with their products has, combined with performance that generally does not match that of Western Digital's drives, has made Seagate's appeal more limited than it was in the past. This does not mean that Seagate is down and out, but it does mean that the Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5TB drive gets the nod over a Seagate drive of similar capacity which sells for a fair bit less.

    It should be noted that the Green series of Western Digital drives are not the performance model. Those who for some reason need an ultra-high performance hard drive would probably not be looking at an extreme high-capacity internal drive anyway, but it should be remembered that even though the Caviar Green 1.5TB drive provides good performance for what it is, it is not going to touch Western Digital's smaller, faster Black series drives. The Green series drives are not even 7200RPM drives, which are extremely common in today's market.

    The advantage of the Green series is higher power efficiency and a generally lower noise level. These advantages are good for a 1.5TB drive, as such drives are usually used in situations where a great deal of media must be stored, like home theater PCs or dedicated file servers. In these sorts of configurations performance is less important than practicality, which means that the Caviar Green 1.5TB, at a price of $159.99, has no competitor which can outclass it. The only similar drive is the Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB. However, at nearly twice the price, that drive seems unappealing compared to the 1.5TB version.

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    Western Digital Caviar Black 1 TB Hard Drive

    The Caviar Black Is The Fastest 1 Terabyte HD You're going to notice a trend. Given as I've already introduced Western Digital, I won't go over the same ground again.

    The Black series is Western Digital's performance-oriented product line. These products are not designed to be quite as fast as Western Digital's 10,000RPM drives, but they are a step below, and are the fastest line of products offered which can be considered for high-capacity storage needs. The 1TB Caviar Black looks great on paper, and is clearly built to provide superior performance to Green series products like the 1.5TB drive listed above. The drive spins at 7,200RPM, has three 334GB platters, and has a 32MB cache size.

    All of these numbers should translate to high performance. And they do. In most file-copy tests the Caviar Black 1TB comes in second or third, usually trailing just behind 10,000RPM drives and running neck-and-neck with Western Digital's smaller 640GB 7,200RPM hard drive, which is still widely considered the king of practical performance. More importantly, the Caviar Black 1TB drive dominates drives from Samsung, Hitachi, and Seagate.

    There is a trade-off. Given the drive's performance oriented build, it is louder and consumes more power than many other drives. This could be frustrating if you're looking for high-capacity storage which is also relatively quite and energy-efficient. In a high-performance desktop, however, the Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB drive is probably the best choice possible. And it helps that it currently retails for only $119.99.

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    Western Digital My Book Essential 2TB

    The Western Digital My Book 2TB Is A Monolith Of Storage Yes, another Western Digital Drive. Although I like to diversify recommendations, the fact is that Western Digital is currently the dominant force in the hard drive market. This will likely change, but for the moment, they're on top of the world.

    The My Book Essential 2TB is an external hard drive. It is the only hard drive on this list which is external. The reason for the only comparable internal solution, Western Digital's own 2TB internal drive, is more expensive not much more practical. When compared to the My Book Essential 2TB, it loses out on price - when compared to the already recommend 1.5TB Caviar Green, the 2TB internal drive seems pointless.

    Being an external drive, the My Book Essential 2TB is not the hard drive to buy if performance is your goal. Obviously, such a drive is only really suitable for libraries of music, movies, or other files which tend to require high-capacity drives. That said, having an external hard drive capable of storing those sorts of files has advantages. Given the massive size of this drive, it would be possible to create a mobile version of all your music, movies, and videos, and even games. The massive size of this drive also makes it excellent for those few who have file collections approaching the double-digit terabyte size. The My Book Essential is not a good solution when measuring by the storage you receive for your money, as it costs $259.99.

    However, those who have massive file collections are also probably already drowning in a plethora of internal and external drives. An external drive of this size allows you to consolidate files into a more manageable number of drives; the older, smaller drives could then be used as backups. This is the advantage of an external drive of this size. While value is usually the most important consideration for the average user, thosetruly addicted to media also have to consider organization as a priority. If you were to spread 6TB of data across, say 500GB external drives, you probably wouldn't even be able to find enough USB ports on your PC to connect all the drives at once. With the My Book Essential 2TB, your data will be much more manageable.