How to Choose a Hard Drive

Written by:  Lucinda Watrous • Edited by: Tricia Goss
Updated Feb 13, 2010
• Related Guides: Hard Drive

Hard drives (HDD) are an essential part of every computer, and an upgradable part of every computer at that. If you are in the market for a new HDD, take a look at this article to find out how you should choose your new hard drive.


A hard drive is the computer's long term memory. Available in several different storage capacities, IDE or SATA connections, internal, external, or solid state, it is easy to see why choosing a hard drive for your computer may be a difficult decision. Don't worry though, because by the time you finish reading this you'll know what all these terms mean, and how to go about making the right choice for you and your computer needs.

Things You'll Need

Step One

Determine the amount of money you have available to spend on the new hard drive. This is the most important step, because you do not want to present yourself with a hard drive you cannot afford. Aim for $75-$150 for a decent amount of space, though you could possibly spend less, and you could possibly spend more. This budget will give you the means to get a good drive, and give you a little bit of "wiggle room" so to speak, in case you find a better deal.

Step Two

Determine if you need an external or internal drive. Usually, you can get an external and a low cost (through an online vendor) casing that will allow the hard drive to become an external that connects through USB 2.0. Sometimes it will come out cheaper just to outright buy an external drive. This is a fairly easy decision to make, because you either need an internal drive for your desktop or laptop; or you need an external drive to take with you wherever you go.

Step Three

Determine if you require IDE or SATA. Most hard drives these days are SATA, but this requirement is really dictated by your motherboard. The IDE/SATA requirement only refers to how the hard drive attach's to your computer, but they are not interchangeable. If you have an older computer, you can pretty much count on needing an IDE drive, but if you are unsure, you'll need to consult your computer manufacturer just to be sure. Generally, if you need an IDE, you'll be spending a bit more money on the same amount of storage space in GB than if you need a SATA drive. Tiger Direct has an adapter for $20 that you can buy that will attach to your IDE drive to make it a SATA drive.

Step Four

Determine the physical size of the drive. Desktops need 3.5'' drives, and laptops need 2.5'' drives. This is perhaps the simplest step of the process.

Step Five

Determine the space requirements. Generally, you want to upgrade from whatever you have. The maximum you'll be able to get in one drive is 1TB, or 1000GB. 160-750GB is plenty for most people, so just consider how much storage space you want to have. The more music, videos, and photos you have, the more storage space you want. Very rarely will you actually run out of space (a common thing with older computers).

Tips, Warnings, and Other Information

  • Shop around. Generally you will find online stores cheaper than conventional stores, if you can wait on shipping. You may even find a great sale.
  • Solid State drives are much more expensive because they do not have moving parts, which preserves the drive and the data. This is why they are much more expensive than traditional drives ($1000 for 64GB!)
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