Storage is one of the cornerstones of a working computer of any kind. This is why upgrading your hard drive to a better one is quite a big deal. However, in today’s huge market of various hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs), finding the right one is quite the daunting task.
This is why our internal hard drive buying guide exists – to help you find out what makes a great hard drive and what are the best ones out there. Our guide includes hard drives with the best price per GB ratio, combined with high transfer speeds, reliability, and positive customer reviews. Not only that, we’ve added handy tips and technicality explanations to help you understand what drive would fit your needs the best and what to expect once you buy it.
It’s very hard to determine a single best top pick amongst all internal laptop and desktop hard drives, because of their vast diversity. Some of them are manufactured for NAS, some for backup or surveillance systems. For more options, go to our separate best internal hard drive top list, or check out the fastest internal HDD list for the best-performing consumer hard drives currently available.
To find the best internal hard drive, you definitely must know where you will put it and use it, which is why we built our list from what we consider to be the best 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives for various uses. We focused on the fastest and most reasonably priced drives for each category, so most drives on this list are 7200RPM hard drives. You’ll find all of the important specifications for all hard drives on our top list, as well as an explanation for all of those specs after the list.
How we picked the best HDDs
Customer reviews on major retailer sites represent reliability via real-life user experience rather than just numbers provided by the manufacturer. This was the first step in picking the best internal hard drives for our list as all other characteristics become irrelevant if the drive breaks a day after its warranty ends.
We also looked at Backblaze data and other similar sources to determine the most reliable brands and drives. Cloud backup companies can offer a massive amount of hard drive reliability data because they have thousands of hard drives running non-stop all the time.
We looked at various benchmarks from users and other reviewers, but our main focus was UserBenchmarks. Their benchmark results, aggregated from hundreds if not thousands of users, are more objective than separate speed measurements, and they also give us a unified platform on which to compare the drives to one another. A thing worth noting is that UserBenchmarks’ results are usually lower than those of separate benchmarks.
Best 3.5-inch Internal Hard Drives for PC and NAS
These are speeds of only one model in each respective series lineup. For example, Seagate BarraCuda has 4 more capacities available (besides the fastest 2TB model), each with its own transfer speeds.
We’ll start with a well-rounded hard drive from Seagate’s Guardian series, that being the BarraCuda. Barracuda doesn’t excel in one particular field, like low price or high performance, but is rather a jack of all trades. The base 7200RPM version comes in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB capacities, all of which feature a 64MB cache, aside from the 500GB model that has a 32MB cache. All standard models of BarraCuda come with a 2-year warranty.
When it comes to performance, the BarraCuda delivers one of the highest benchmarks amongst other 7200RPM drives. The 159-179MB/s sequential read and 153-162MB/s sequential write benchmarks (highest for 3TB model, falls off a lot for the 4TB model) from UserBenchmarks make it one of the best-performing HDD series out there. Most other benchmarks from reviewers and users come in at 150-210MB/s, which is almost as high as you can go with commercial 7200RPM drives.
The drive is also one of the cheapest 7200RPM drives, ranging between 2.9 and 4.5 cents per GB, depending on the capacity. It has nothing in terms of added software, however, the hardware and firmware parts of the drive have been optimized with various features, like multi-layer caching (optimizes data throughput) and Secure Instant Erase (increases data security for deleted data).
If you’re not looking for anything specific in your new internal hard drive, the BarraCuda is the way to go because it neatly covers all basic needs of any user. It’s pretty fast, pretty spacious, pretty reliable, and the cheapest 7200RPM drive on most retailer sites, all of which makes it the most balanced hard drive out there.
Also worth noting is the BarraCuda Pro version, which is available in much larger capacities – 2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, as well as the largest capacity among consumer-grade drives – 10TB. The drive also comes with an extra-long 5-year warranty as well as a 2-year Rescue Data Recovery plan that will help you retrieve accidentally deleted or corrupted data (not available in all countries). Pro drives also come with larger caches, 128MB for 2TB and 4TB versions and 256MB for the rest, to be exact.
The Pro models are also supposedly faster, but UserBenchmarks shows only the 4TB and 10TB versions to be notably faster than standard BarraCudas (around 190MB/s read/write), with other capacities adding only a couple MB/s to the average base speeds. As you may have already guessed, the BarraCuda Pro drives cost a lot more than regular drives – on average $60 more than their standard counterparts and similar 7200RPM drives, or from 4 to 6.5 cents per GB.
Keeping up with modern computing technologies has become necessary in our everyday lives, but at the same time, it can be a very costly. Many of us are on a very limited budget for upgrading or rebuilding computers which makes every dollar count, so a drive such as Toshiba P300 might be the best solution for some users. First things first, this is the cheapest 7200RPM drive only on Amazon and is on par with BarraCuda on other major retailer sites, in terms of price. Still, at 2.67-4.4 cents per GB (depending on capacity), the P300 will save you at least a few dollars on an economy PC build, if you get it from the cheapest seller.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
As for the P300 itself, it’s available in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB capacities, although the 500GB is outdated and thus overpriced. All capacities come with a 64MB cache and a 2-year warranty.
Currently, the P300 is the cheapest among the most reliable 7200RPM hard drive models on Amazon. All other retailer sites sell it for more average prices. The drive’s performance is still on par with the fastest consumer drives, achieving 150-162MB/s read and 145-163MB/s write speeds on UserBenchmarks. Other benchmarks, like the ones from KitGuru and XSReviews, range between 150 and 200MB/s, as with most 7200RPM drives.
This might not be the best drive out there, but if you need to save every penny on your new PC build, the P300 might be the way to go. It’s only slightly slower than its competition, so you don’t even lose much by potentially saving $5-$10 on it. As with most products from major manufacturers like Toshiba, the P300 is also reliable and well-received by its customer base. But if Amazon isn’t your thing, other drives might prove to be cheaper because, more often than not, the cheapest reliable 7200RPM drive on other retailer sites is the BarraCuda.
Every single component of a high-performance PC build has to be as fast as possible and of high quality, including your hard drive. When it comes to the fastest 3.5-inch hard drives, there’s only one clear leader and that is WD Black. WD Black has been the fastest consumer hard drive for many years now, with all of the updated and newer versions achieving even higher benchmarks to fit the latest speed standards.
The latest 2015/2016 iterations of the drive come in 4TB, 5TB, and 6TB capacities and reach 166-191MB/s sequential read and 171-216MB/s sequential write on UserBenchmarks, depending on capacity. Oddly enough, the separate 2015 6TB model features a higher sequential read speed (192MB/s) but a lower sequential write speed (184MB/s).
This makes the 2015 model fit more for gaming needs (it will load programs faster), while the newer 2016 model seems to be a bit more well-rounded for both input and output operations. However, the difference is minuscule and you would most likely not even notice it, so don’t overthink too much which model to buy and go for whichever one is cheaper.
The UserBenchmark platform is unforgiving, so these can be considered as one of the lowest benchmarks, which gives a better perspective to how fast these drives are. In fact, most other benchmarks have shown 220-250MB/s sequential read and 180-230MB/s sequential write for the 2015 6TB model, which is insane for a hard disk drive.
If you’re looking for smaller capacities, the 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB models from 2013 will have to do. These are more on par with average 7200RPM drives, reaching 149-160MB/s sequential read and 140-157MB/s sequential write speeds on UserBenchmarks. There’s also a 4TB model from 2013, but it is completely outperformed in every way by the newer, 2016 4TB model.
As you might imagine, all of this performance comes at a cost. WD Black drives range between 4.2-6.9 cents per GB (depending on capacity), roughly 1.5 times more than the Toshiba P300. Although expensive, it isn’t exactly overpriced as the market-leading performance is accompanied by a market-leading 5-year warranty. Overwhelmingly positive customer reports and professional reviews of these drives back up the high quality claims even more. The latest 1-3TB capacity models feature 64MB caches, while 4-6TB models feature a 128MB cache.
Overall, there is no better HDD option for high-performance gaming PCs than the WD Black drives. They might cost more but you pay for what you get, that being the highest performance in the consumer market and a 5-year warranty for added reliability. Just keep note of what models you buy so that you don’t buy a slower drive for more money.
Expensive performance HDDs like WD Black tackle your performance needs head-on, by simply doing everything quickly and having a higher price tag because of it. SSHDs, on the other hand, achieve high performance by wisely using their NAND flash memory only for the files that actually affect loading speeds and save you money on unnecessary performance. Undoubtedly, the best SSHD on the market right now is the Seagate FireCuda (not to be confused with BarraCuda).
FireCuda is available only in 1TB and 2TB capacities but those capacities come with an added 8 gigabytes of NAND flash storage for all of your performance-heavy data. This flash storage, in time, will be filled with all of the boot, configuration, and other files used in loading programs and booting your computer. It also has the regular 64MB drive bus/DRAM cache for managing data flows. FireCuda also comes with the industry-leading 5-year warranty, unique to this drive and WD Black.
SSHD performance is basically the only reason why the technology was developed, to begin with, so how fast is the FireCuda, exactly? Well, UserBenchmark shows somewhat modest 140MB/s sequential read and 169MB/s sequential write results for both 1TB and 2TB 7200RPM models, with a noteworthy random write benchmark of 4.92-5.03MB/s, but this isn’t the end of the story.
The real-life performance benefits are much harder to pin down to a single number because of the long-term buildup of the flash memory. This effect can’t be measured by benchmarking software since it uses its own, brand new data for testing the drive. In short, you can expect the mentioned speeds for rarely used documents or any new data, while frequently opened games and software, as well as your operating system, will load up a lot quicker after the FireCuda “ get used to” this software and begins storing it in its flash memory.
Ranging between 5-7.9 cents per GB (depending on capacity and retailer), the FireCuda isn’t exactly cheap, but getting the 2TB version will most likely be cheaper than WD Black 2TB and might even yield better performance on more casual gaming builds. Overall, the FireCuda is much more affordable than any SSD out there and can provide almost the same performance gains if you don’t run too many demanding programs or games that could fill up its cache.
Some of us look for superb performance in every component in our super-expensive gaming PCs, but some of us simply want a solid, cheap, and reliable hard disk drive with its speed being secondary. 5400RPM hard drives are the most common in the consumer market and Western Digital Blue drives are, in our opinion, the best 5400RPM drives.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
A wide array of capacities is available for WD Blue drives – 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, and 6TB, although the 500GB model is almost as expensive as the 1TB one. All capacities feature a 64MB cache and a 2-year warranty. A 7200RPM 1TB model is also available, but it can hardly compete with other 7200RPM drives in terms of transfer speeds.
As we mentioned before, if you’re looking at 5400RPM drives, price and quality are prioritized over performance. However, you won’t have to sacrifice much performance with WD Blue because it’s one of the fastest 5400RPM drives out there, reaching speeds most competitors can only dream of. 130-140MB/s sequential read and 122-146MB/s sequential write speeds (UserBenchmark) are unparalleled in the market. However, the 7200RPM drive shows only 158MB/s sequential read and 145MB/s sequential write speeds, adding very little to its lower RPM counterparts.
Fortunately, most major retailers oddly sell the 5400RPM and 7200RPM 1TB WD Blue drives for the same price, making the small speed benefits of the 7200RPM drive much more appealing. That price itself is also very affordable, ranging between 3.1-5.3 cents per GB, depending on capacity.
In short, WD Blue drives are of high quality (confirmed by positive customer reviews) and don’t compromise performance too much. They aren’t as fast as 7200RPM drives, of course, but will do great for budget PC builds and more casual usage, and will save you some money by doing it, as 5400RPM drives do.
HDDs are slowly but surely being outmatched in every way by SSDs, aside from price. This is why many hard drive users decide to couple them together in more secure, fast, and practical systems, some of which can even outmatch solid-state speeds. However, such Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) systems put a lot of pressure on the hard drives, so only the sturdiest drives can be used reliably in such systems. The most reliable one, in our opinion, is WD Red.
Before we move on, the base WD Red lineup of hard drives features only 5400RPM drives. If you need quicker drives for your RAID system, we’ll discuss the 7200RPM WD Red Pro series further below. WD Red is one of the few hard drives currently (2017) available in 10TB capacity, as well as the more common 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 5TB (discontinued), 6TB, and 8TB capacities. The 10TB capacity comes with a 256MB cache, the 8TB models come with a 128MB cache, and all the other variants feature a 64MB cache. All drive models come with a 3-year warranty.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
*currently too few data points exist for a fully reliable result, benchmarks may vary
The data transfer speeds of these 5400RPM drives reach 126MB/s – 146MB/s sequential read and 115MB/s – 142MB/s sequential write (over 1-8TB capacities) on UserBenchmarks, with capacities over 5TB ramping up to extremely high speeds, above 130MB/s. The lower 1-5TB capacities show decent performance, while 6-8TB will push 5400RPM drive performance to its very limits.
We were able to find a couple separate benchmarks for the WD Red 10TB model, all of which reach 200MB/s read/write speeds, which is higher than what most 7200RPM drives reach. We will stay tuned for more benchmarks though since such speeds are unprecedented among 5400RPM drives.
The price per capacity of different WD Red models seems to vary a lot, seeing how the 4TB capacity is the cheapest at 3.33 cents per GB on most major retailer sites. Other capacities from 1TB to 8TB range between 6.5 and 3.41 cents per GB accordingly, while the 10TB model reaches almost 4 cents per GB, probably because of its larger cache and helium technology.
What makes WD Red drives more appropriate for NAS and RAID systems is their higher durability for constant, 24/7 workloads, as well as reduced heating and power consumption. Although WD Red drives will work just fine as your regular internal hard drive, there are multiple factors that make it work better than average in RAID systems.
The faster WD Red Pro series features a lineup of 7200RPM drives that come with an extended 5-year warranty. Pro drives come in 2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, and 10TB capacities. The 162 – 184MB/s sequential read and 169 – 178MB/s sequential write speeds for 2-6TB models are a bit underwhelming though.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
*currently too few data points exist for a fully reliable result, benchmarks may vary
Same as with the standard 10TB model, the WD Red Pro 10TB has the potential to be one of the fastest hard drives on the market, even though no benchmarks of it exist yet, aside from WD’s own 240MB/s estimate. All capacities of Red Pro cost $30-60 more than the corresponding standard models (4-6.1 cents per GB, 6TB the cheapest) because of the higher speed class and the extended warranty.
Although the price, performance, and reliability of WD Red Pro drives make it more appropriate for enterprise or high-end enthusiast usage, they will do a good job in more basic systems of more casual users as well. Still, more casual RAID or NAS system users should focus on the standard WD Red drives that are much more reliable in RAID systems than the vast majority of other drives.
When it comes to reliability and longevity, there is only one unquestionable leader among hard drive manufacturers – Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, or HGST for short. Although now a subsidiary of Western Digital, HGST keeps on creating some of the highest-quality hard drives, which is why it’s important to mention at least one in this list. While they focus more on the enterprise market, some of HGST’s products are still aimed at individual, casual users, the most notable being the Deskstar NAS drive.
Available in 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, and 10TB capacities, any Deskstar model will be a sizeable addition to your NAS system. The 3-year warranty might not be the longest but the HGST brand alone ensures quality, seeing how both customer reviews and enterprise data confirm this brand to be much more reliable than both Seagate and WD.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
The Deskstar NAS drives, in particular, provide not only the HGST quality but a very impressive performance as well. Both 4TB and 6TB models reach 180-185 MB/s sequential read and 170-175 MB/s sequential write speeds, with the 10TB model achieving staggering 210-220 MB/s benchmarks (UserBenchmark). The 8TB model is slightly slower than the others but is fast nonetheless at 160/170 MB/s sequential read and write.
You’d imagine such performance to come at a high cost but Deskstar drives are actually one of the cheapest ones on the market. All capacities range between 3.15 and 3.5 cents per GB, which is very sensible, especially considering the performance and quality. However, a very important thing to note here are the many complaints about the Deskstar NAS drives being very noisy. This is why we recommend this drive for NAS usage only, seeing how the intense vibrations and loudness would be quite annoying while the drive was in a regular PC case, while most NAS enclosures are built to contain such drives to some extent.
Overall, the Deskstar NAS drives are fast, durable, and relatively cheap. However, HGST’s enterprise drive technology may have found its way into this personal desktop drive, making it much less suitable for anything but a NAS enclosure due to its noisiness. Still, if you’re able to ignore this downside, this is a very good, if not a flat-out better alternative to WD Red drives.
Even though it’s a subsidiary of Western Digital now, HGST still manufactures one of the most reliable and most popular hard drives, including 2.5-inch laptop drives. Their Travelstar 2.5-inch hard drive has become the most popular 7200RPM laptop hard drive over the years because of multiple reasons, including reliability, speed, and price.
Although currently available only in 1TB (7k1000 model) capacity (lower capacities seem to be discontinued), this speedy drive will be spacious enough for most laptop users. Travelstar 7k1000 drives come with a 3-year warranty and a 32MB cache. It doesn’t look like much at first glance due to the limited capacity and other size-related limitations. Where this 2.5-inch drive doesn’t disappoint is transfer speeds.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
More than 70’000 benchmarks of the Travelstar 7k1000 exist on UserBenchmarks, averaging out to 102-115MB/s sequential read and 102-112MB/s sequential write (for 750GB/1TB capacities accordingly). Again, this doesn’t seem like much when compared to larger drives, but these are actually one of the highest transfer speeds for consumer-grade, 7200RPM 2.5-inch drives. Aside from being one of the fastest laptop drives, the 7k1000 manages to also be one of the cheapest as it goes for 5.5-7 cents per GB, depending on the retailer.
The low price and high performance of the 7k1000 are accompanied by customer-approved durability and a decent 3-year warranty. Overall, the Travelstar combines everything you would want from a 2.5-inch hard drive, aside from capacity, in one neat package and has very few noteworthy competitors in terms of speed and price.
If size is what you’re looking for, then Seagate has you covered. Same as with 3.5-inch drives, Seagate has created the largest internal drives for laptops as well, in the form of the 5400RPM 2.5-inch BarraCuda series.
These BarraCudas come in 1TB, 2TB, 3TB (discontinued), 4TB, and 5TB capacities, giving a wide range of options for various laptop and PS4 hard drive users. You can also find 500GB and 3TB models but both are more expensive per capacity and much slower than all the aforementioned capacities. All capacities feature a quite hefty 128MB cache but come with a somewhat average 2-year warranty.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
As it is with 5400RPM drives, the transfer speeds of BarraCuda 2.5-inch drives are not too impressive. 104-110MB/s sequential read and 91-103MB/s sequential write performance (between the 4 capacities) will do just fine in everyday use but don’t expect lightning-fast loading times with these drives. Also, as read performance rises a bit, write performance seems to dip down to 91MB/s at higher capacities, with 1TB and 2TB models being consistently fast in both modes.
Ranging between 3.9-5 cents per GB (over different capacities), the 2.5-inch BarraCudas are also quite cheap. However, you pay for what you get because of the lower spindle and transfer speeds. Another thing worth noting is that 3TB and larger models of the BarraCuda 2.5-inch will be 15mm high, as opposed to the 7mm height for the 1-2TB capacities and many other laptop HDDs. So make sure that you have enough space in your laptop if you do decide to get a larger capacity of this drive.
Overall, size is the main characteristic of this drive, beating any competition in terms of how much space you can cram into a laptop. BarraCuda drives are also pretty cheap, making it an appealing choice for a budget upgrade, or for users who simply don’t need top-notch performance.
High transfer speeds are much easier to achieve on a PC than on a laptop because faster moving parts need more space to function freely. This makes finding fast 2.5-inch drives much harder and only a few drive models out there have managed to contain PC-worthy performance within a laptop drive bay. The quickest of them all is, yet again, WD Black.
As we discussed with previous drive models, the limited space for drive parts in a 2.5-inch drive forces you, to some extent, to choose between high capacity and high performance. This is no different with WD Black, which comes in several, small capacities – 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 750GB, and 1TB. The 750GB model features a 16MB cache, while the remaining capacities feature a 32MB cache. Same as with the larger form factor, the 2.5-inch WD Black drives come with an industry-leading 5-year warranty.
Unlike the 3.5-inch models, the smaller WD Black drives don’t deliver super-high benchmarks and are much closer, in terms of transfer speeds, to their slower competition. 103-123MB/s sequential read and 97-117MB/s sequential write (UserBenchmark) for the larger capacities (500GB and up) is basically on par with the Travelstar. An important note with WD Black 2.5-inch drives is that you may come across the older 500GB model that has a smaller cache and is notably slower than the newer model. If you do decide to get a 500GB WD Black laptop drive, get the WD5000LPLX as opposed to the older WD5000BPKX. The LPLX is also the fastest drive in the lineup, even faster than the 1TB model.
Although more humble with performance than its larger brothers, WD Black mobile comes with a price tag as premium as its 3.5-inch counterparts. 6.9-11 cents per GB for 500GB – 1TB capacities is quite expensive, even for a 7200RPM drive. We didn’t even include the smaller capacities of WD Black since most retailers sell the 250GB and 320GB models for the same price as the newer 500GB model, resulting in prices closer to SSDs than hard drives. Note that the 750GB and 1TB models are 9.5mm thick, whilst the smaller capacities are only 7mm thick.
In short, WD Black mobile drives have a slight edge, in terms of performance, over our pick for the best 2.5-inch drive – the HGST Travelstar. Black drives also come with a lengthy 5-year warranty and have more options for smaller capacities. However, all of the pros of WD Black mobile come at a much higher price which makes us recommend the HGST Travelstar over WD’s high-performance drive. Still, if reliable warranty and every last drop of performance are important factors to you, a WD Black laptop drive will definitely not disappoint and will be a great purchase (if you have the money for it).
As small as the high-performance drive market for laptops is, it still manages to have at least one SSHD in the lineup – the Seagate FireCuda. Although generally slower than the 3.5-inch FireCudas, the 2.5-inch, 5400RPM FireCudas use the same caching methods to gradually increase the performance of the drive.
Laptop FireCuda hard drives come in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities, all of which are 7mm thick. If Amazon is anything to go by, the 1TB model has a 128MB cache while the other two capacities feature a 64MB hard drive bus. However, these are arguably irrelevant numbers because of the unique way SSHD caches work. Also included with the package is the industry-leading 5-year warranty.
Seq. read (MB/s)
Seq. write (MB/s)
100-105MB/s sequential read and 74-78MB/s sequential write results on UserBenchmarks are hardly impressive. However, same as with the 3.5-inch version, the specialized SSHD cache will improve the FireCuda’s performance over time and this effect is much harder to measure precisely.
Still, high performance right out of the box is much more valuable than some potential future estimates, especially considering the price of FireCuda drives. 4.7-10 cents per GB (between all capacities) is quite a high price tag for what is still, at its core, a 5400RPM drive. The 1TB FireCuda model, for example, costs even a tad bit more than the 1TB Travelstar (5.6 vs 5.5 cents per GB), driving home the point of potential versus actual performance.
In short, FireCuda’s 5-year warranty and the potential of a high-speed 2TB storage device for your laptop are great features. At the same time, there are cheaper alternatives for both speed and capacity on our list (Travelstar for speed, BarraCuda for capacity) that cost less than FireCuda drives. If you decide to go for a laptop SSHD, we would recommend only the 2TB FireCuda model, as it provides higher capacity than the Travelstar and higher transfer speeds than those of the BarraCuda drives, giving you the best of both worlds at the most reasonable price. The smaller capacities (500GB, 1TB) are simply outmatched by quicker 7200RPM drives that cost roughly the same.
Even for a non-expert in computers, it is clear that internal hard drives play a critical role in improving computers overall performance. Hard disk drives store most of your data and their main purpose is to access it based on the user`s request. By choosing a reliable and fast hard drive you can dramatically improve your system’s data transfer speeds, decrease boot and game loading times. Your computer will start up faster than before and you will forget the long loading times it took for the browser, files, or any other software to be opened.
The drives listed above are our favorites for each, respective usage. However, there are many more hard drive models out there for you to look through and choose from. Even if you do want to simply follow our recommendations, it’s important to understand what makes hard drives tick and, in turn, how to discern internal hard drives that fit your needs from ones that don’t.
At first glance, choosing the best internal hard drive may seem quite easy – just find one that costs the least per gigabyte from a reliable, well-known manufacturer and you’re done, right? While price and capacity remain the most important factors, there’s much more to hard drives than just that. There’s the form factor (2.5-inch, 3.5-inch), cache size (32MB, 64MB, for example), spindle speed (5400RPM, 7200RPM, for example), sequential read/write performance, etc.
The sheer amount of various capacities and models can be quite confusing because they are so similar to each other. For example, WD Blue HDD series features 1TB models that can feature both the regular 5400RPM, as well as the faster 7200RPM spindle speed, while all other capacities are only 5400RPM. Add to that the piles upon piles of different updated and discontinued drive models and you can see why finding the best hard drive might require a lot more effort than you signed up for.
All of this might seem overwhelming, but don’t worry as we will help you learn the basics as well as the more complex stuff regarding hard drives and their usage. Our hard drive buying guide is not only a list of the best internal HDDs but also an educational introduction into the world of hard drives via tips and technical explanations.
We will go into some basic detail as to how hard drives work, what all of their specifications mean, and how to find the best and most reliable hard drive models in the overwhelming internal HDD market. SO, let’s get started!
Choosing between SSD, SSHD, and HDD builds
In this list, we only looked at HDDs and SSHDs (closer to a hard drive than an SSD) but you could also get a solid-state drive, which stores data electronically, rather than on magnetic platters via moving parts. Seeing how getting a new storage drive is quite an investment for many people, it’s important to understand the difference between HDDs, SSHDs, and SSDs in order to not waste money on sub-optimal solutions for your computer storage.
First things first, you have to understand what are these different devices and what makes them special:
Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
As the name suggests, HDDs store data on “hard” disks, called platters. In an HDD, information is stored via magnetic forces that change the state of tiny grains within the platter’s surface, which correspond to your ones and zeroes. Imagine a vinyl record player on steroids and add a little thing called a cache, which helps transfer data to the computer and optimizes performance.
The two main criteria that set apart different types of storage are price per capacity and transfer speeds:
Very cheap: $0.03-0.06 per GB. Being one of the oldest relevant forms of computer storage, the good old HDD is also, on average, the cheapest.
Slow: 110-130MB/s (5400RPM), 150-200MB/s (7200RPM) sequential read/write. Although the read/write needle moves extremely fast on the drive platters, it, and the drive platters themselves are still moving parts. This makes read/write processes a lot slower than they are with fully electronic parts.
Solid-State Hybrid Drive (SSHD)
Remember that cache thing on HDDs? SSHDs take this technology to the next level, combining HDD capacity and price with the high transfer speeds of flash memory. An SSHD is a regular HDD with an additional NAND cache for storing more frequently used data and loading that data more quickly. It’s basically a regular HDD and a tiny SSD combined into one device, with the SSD part being smart enough to hold performance-heavy loading data for often used software.
Although you’ll mainly find only Seagate SSHDs, which makes it somewhat of a company project, the difference in function between them and regular HDDs is notable enough to put SSHDs in a separate category.
Cheap: $0.04-0.08 per GB. Since SSHDs are basically a modified hard disk drives, their prices don’t differ too much. Fancy HDDs and regular SSHDs will go for the same price.
Average Speed: regular HDD benchmark results but improved real-life performance over time. The large cache allows more of frequently used data to be stored in the flash memory and, in turn, to be accessed more quickly than having to read it every time from the drive’s platters. While the benchmarks don’t show it, when game and OS boot files get moved to the cache, they will be loaded much faster.
Solid-State Drive (SSD)
A completely different technology to the two previously mentioned ones is the solid-state drive, or SSD for short. SSDs store data via NAND gates and floating gate transistors, which are just fancy words for microscopic electronics. It’s basically like a super-charged USB thumb drive.
Very Expensive: $0.25-0.30 per GB. SSDs have been around for almost a decade now and have drastically increased in size to match their hard disk competition. However, their price hasn’t dropped as much since building NAND devices is much more expensive, putting a pretty high price tag on the super-high transfer speeds.
Very Fast: 350-550MB/s sequential read/write. Not having moving parts alone drastically increases the speed limits of solid-state drives. This is expressed even more in random speeds which represent the device’s ability to read/write many tiny files as opposed to one long string of data (sequential) and can be almost a 100 times higher than those of HDDs!
Best internal hard drive build for PCs
PCs, in most cases, have enough space to fit many devices, including hard drives. This lets you build the most cost-effective high-performance drive combination, that being SSD+HDD.
Get a smaller SSD (500GB-1TB) for your OS and bigger, more demanding games and programs. Add a cheaper, much more spacious HDD (1TB+) for documents and less demanding games/software. This way, you get the best of both worlds while somewhat dodging the downsides of unused, super-expensive SSD performance, and the slow transfer speeds of HDDs.
Best internal hard drive build for laptops
Getting an external hard drive for media files and documents while connecting an SSD to the more responsive, internal SATA connection would be, similarly to PCs, the best hard drive combination for your laptop. However, the added external “box” would compromise the portability of your laptop somewhat, so take into consideration how you use your laptop and whether this factor is important to you.
If traveling light is important to you and you want the highest performance for the money, you need to look at SSDs or SSHDs. If you can afford a big enough SSD to hold not only games, programs, and the OS, but also photos, movies, and other basic documents, it would be a huge performance boost and some future-proofing for your laptop.
If SSD prices are too steep for you, get a 2.5-inch SSHD that fits at least a small part of the SSD speeds into one device. To put it into perspective, a 1TB HDD or SSHD drive will be in the ballpark of $50-$70, but the price for a 1TB SSD will be more than $300. 7200RPM laptop drives will also give you fast storage for a reasonable price.
Whichever drive it is, combining storage space and speed into one drive is crucial to having optimum laptop storage. This is because most laptops can hold only one 2.5-inch drive so that one drive should combine both performance and capacity (like the SSD+HDD combo for PCs). Some laptops may allow you to use both an SSD and an HDD via two 2.5-inch hard drive bays but they are few and far between.
Internal hard drive reliability
The technical specifications of a hard drive show how well it will perform and whether it fits your needs, but, as it is with any pricey product, how long it will last is one of its most important characteristics. Considering how much we rely on our data nowadays and how damaging it would be to lose it, being able to tell reliable brands/drives from unreliable ones is a very important skill.
There are two main sources which can help you with that – customer reviews and data collected from data centers, like Backblaze. Backblaze is a cloud hosting company with almost 50 thousand different internal drives running 24/7. They focus on using and evaluating only consumer-grade hard drives in order to help reviewers like us, manufacturers, and most importantly, the customer to easily find reliability data for tons of hard drive models.
Meanwhile, customer reviews are real-life data points for drive reliability. There are thousands of reviews of the most popular drive models, which reduces consumer error to a minimum and can sometimes reveal some crucial issues with the hard drive, like half the drives breaking a day after its warranty ends, etc.
Picking a brand
From our own experience, we can say that there is no single best hard drive manufacturer out there, as anyone can get a lemon. Although it’s still important to avoid less known and thus less reliable brands, any drive can fail no matter if it is Toshiba, HGST, Seagate, or Western Digital, not to mention different models of a different make.
There are two main market leaders who’ve gained the respect of their customers by selling high-quality reliable hard drives – Western Digital (WD) and Seagate. Customer reviews for hard drives of both brands are the highest in the market, showing both company’s experience and dedication in the field of hard disk drives. Drive failures for Seagate hard drives used to be more common than with any other drive manufacturer, but for the past few years, reliability data of their hard drives (from customer reviews and Backblaze) has improved drastically and is on par with WD and Toshiba.
Honorable mentions would be Toshiba and HGST. Toshiba hasn’t pushed the hard disk drive market forward as much as the other two companies and their drives haven’t been as well received or gained the popularity that other manufacturers have. Still, the quality of a major manufacturer is there, it’s just that there are more reliable options.
Meanwhile, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) is a very reliable brand that you’ll often find on 2.5-inch laptop drives. Although technically a subsidiary of WD, HGST still produce reliable hard drives under their own name. If Backblaze is anything to go by, HGST drives are twice as reliable as their competition. However, HGST makes most of its drives for enterprise usage and hasn’t become too popular among regular customers (aside from the Travelstar laptop drive).
Over the years, different hard drive manufacturers, like Maxtor and Samsung, have moved on to other endeavors. But one of the most notable ones is not so far from home – SSDs have experienced huge advancements in performance, capacity, and cost efficiency. Samsung, for example, has gone on to make one of the best internal and external SSDs out there – 850 EVO internal SSDs and T3 external ones. Visit Wikipedia to see the list of defunct hard disk drive manufacturers.
The reason why many manufacturers move over to SSDs is that in the next 10-20 years they might completely outperform HDDs, which are coming close to their technological limitations. For every terabyte added to a hard disk drive by helium, SMR, HAMR, or other fancy new technologies, SSDs grow twice as much in size and much more in performance. But don’t run out to get an SSD just yet because HDDs are still much cheaper and work just fine for many different uses.
Warranties and backups – the backbone of secure data storage
All of these companies are big players and sell millions of hard disks each year, and the number is only increasing. Early breakage or complete duds are impossible to avoid among so many units, but there are a couple things that you yourself can do to ensure the safety of both your data and your budget.
First of all, look for a longer warranty. It’s reassuring that if your device breaks in its first year or two, you’ll be able to get a new one. And the longer this period is, the better, for example, getting a drive with a 1-year warranty, like a Toshiba Desktop 5TB HDD, would be much less reliable than getting a WD Black HDD with a 5-year warranty. You can rest assured that you will almost always have a hard drive whilst in the warranty period. But what about losing the data that’s stored on a broken drive?
The answer is backups! Even if you haven’t experienced hard drive failure before, it can happen at any time, so it’s important to make sure that all of your important documents and files always have a backup. This can be done either by using an external hard drive or by using cloud storage services. The former might be a pricey one-time purchase, while the latter could end up costing more over time. You can choose either, depending on how you manage your budget, but preferably you should use both for extra reliability.
Full system backups are the way to go as some documents or software might still be lost with partial backups, plus you can save your operating system and settings in case the boot drive breaks. Depending on how you decide to back up your data, you can use either Windows or Mac native backup tools, or get 3rd party software, like AOMEI Backupper. Although cloud services can still get hacked and the external drive can still break like any other, the chance of you losing your data is reduced exponentially.
Internal hard drive performance
The speed of HDD data transfer is one of the most important factors you need to look at before buying a hard drive. Capacity is displayed upfront and you can at least roughly tell how much you’ll need but transfer speeds and even spindle speeds often remain as under-the-hood characteristics. Regardless, to improve the overall performance of your PC/laptop, you need a fast hard drive, since your whole system is almost always as slow as its slowest component and that component is often times the hard drive.
But what exactly do we mean by speed and how does it affect how fast a computer is? Well, there are two main speeds that can be attributed to HDDs, them being spindle speed and data read/write speed.
Hard drive spindle speed, 5400RPM, vs 7200RPM
This is the most basic core characteristic of a hard drive’s performance. It describes how many Revolutions Per Second (RPM) the drive’s platters can achieve. This correlates to how quickly the mechanical parts (drive platters and read/write needle) can interact to locate the data you want to read and how quickly data will be written on the drive platters (more on that later).
The two most widespread spindle speed standards are 5400RPM and 7200RPM, both of which have a respective data transfer speed range you can expect from such a drive. You can find various other standards, like 5900RPM and 10000RPM but these are much rarer than the previous two. The price difference between the two spindle speeds is much smaller than the RPM difference – you can expect to pay $10-20 on average more for a 7200RPM drive than a regular 5400RPM one.
Because of technical reasons, like aerodynamics, centrifugal forces, etc. faster spinning drives can hold fewer platters, so finding 2.5-inch 7200RPM drives with higher capacities is more difficult than finding 3.5-inch ones. What might also concern you is the extra energy needed to spin the platters at higher speeds, meaning 7200RPM drives will always use more energy than 5400RPM drives, and will more likely than not be a bit noisier. However, the extra energy usage might add less than a dollar to your yearly energy bill, so whether this is an important enough trade-off is up to you to decide.
Hard drive data transfer speed
This is the much more complicated performance metric of a hard drive that depends on many smaller and larger factors. Data transfer speeds or read/write speeds represent the amount of data that a hard drive can deliver to the computer via its interface. These speeds are usually measured in megabytes per second (MB/s), not to be confused with megabits per second (Mb/s, Mbps). Both values represent data speeds, however, 1 byte = 8 bits, so the same measurement in megabits will result in an 8-times larger number (like the math between inches and feet).
In a magnetic hard disk drive, a read/write needle has to seek out the place on the drive’s platters where data has to be either read from or can be written to. The read/written data is sent to/from the computer through the drive’s controller, which decodes signals from both sides so that the HDD and the computer can “understand each other”. The seeking, decoding/encoding, and many other forms of latency add up, making, let’s say, one megabyte of data to be transferred more slowly. The time it takes for it to be transferred can be measured precisely by sending set amounts of data in a controlled manner and measuring how long it takes to transfer them.
You may have heard about sequential and random (4k) read/write speeds being mentioned here and there, but what are they exactly?
Sequential speeds determine how quickly a long, continuous (sequential) string of data can be read/written.
Random read/write speeds represent how quickly tons of randomly placed, small (usually 4 kilobyte or 4k) files can be read/written.
The difference between the two is huge – sequential speeds are usually measured in hundreds of megabytes, while random speeds of even 7200RPM hard disk drives rarely exceed 5MB/s. This is because moving the mechanical parts between multiple positions is much more time-consuming than having them move in one “line”. Random speeds correlate to loading games or operating systems, where tons of smaller configuration and source files have to be loaded, while sequential speeds are equal to moving large movies or documents to/from the hard drive.
Although the former will likely be the more accurate representation of real-life performance, there are many more minuscule factors that can add up and drastically change this speed between different benchmarks. However, in broad strokes, if a drive has high sequential speeds, it will most likely have fast random access as well. Seeing how random speeds of HDDs are much more difficult to pin down to a certain number, we, as all other reviewers, will focus only on sequential speeds.
As we mentioned before, you can generally expect100-130MB/s from 5400RPM drives and 150-200MB/s from 7200RPM drives, but these values can vary a lot between different computers, different software, and even different units of the same drive. Most of the time manufacturers won’t display any estimates since real-life benchmarks can differ a whole lot from idealized benchmarks. These speeds are often displayed on newer OSs when you paste large amounts of data on a drive but are measured much more precisely and reliably via third-party benchmark software, like CrystalDiskMark.
Other performance factors
Spindle and data transfer speeds can both tell a lot about how well a drive performs and are the most crucial elements of overall performance. However, there are a few other factors that affect loading and file copying speeds:
Cache size – as we mentioned before, the drive’s cache (disk buffer) works as a filter for data and uses command queueing and other fancy technological tricks to ensure slightly higher performance and data integrity.
The hard drive’s cache (also known as a disk buffer or cache buffer), measuring between 8 and 256 MB, is not to be confused with your computer’s onboard RAM cache (soft disk cache) which is a part of the RAM memory dedicated to storing frequently used data for the fastest access. Both cache types, however, are somewhat combined in an SSHD.
SATA version – pretty much all consumer-grade internal hard disk drives use the SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) connection, which has been designed specifically for use with storage devices. However, there are different versions of the SATA interface – SATA 2.0 (3Gbps / 300MB/s bandwidth) and SATA 3.0 (6Gbps / 600MB/s bandwidth). There’s also SATA 1.0 (1.5Gbps / 150MB/s) but it has become a relic of the old days at this point.
The problem with interfaces is that the connected device might be faster than what the connection can handle, which is referred to as bottlenecking. Fortunately, bottlenecking isn’t an issue with consumer hard disk drives, since they are too slow to be bottlenecked by either interface version. Still, it’s something worth noting, especially if you change your mind on HDDs and decide to go for an SSD which would most definitely be bottlenecked if you have the older SATA connection.
One more thing to note here is that some manufacturers will strongly emphasize the SATA 3.0 interface speeds and stamp 6Gbps all over their sales pages – this has nothing to do with actual drive speeds and only represents how much data the connection could handle.
Internal hard drive capacity and usage
Just a few years ago, 1TB drives were large enough even for some professional’s needs, with 2TB and more being overkill for most systems. Nowadays, we use and produce tons more data than we did even just a year ago, which is why 1TB drives have become one of the smallest in the market. So how much capacity do you need for all your data and some future-proofing?
Well, the answer is quite vague – what drive capacity you should buy depends on your needs. The average user will store a couple spacious games and tons of photos and documents on their computer, professionals, like game developers or video editors could go through the same amount of data in a day, while a year of office work with basic documents could fit onto a heftier USB thumb drive. However, the main focus is always the same – to ensure you don’t suddenly run out of space one day but also don’t overpay for tons of space you will never use.
With that said, there are some recommendations to make this easier. A rule of thumb that some computer experts have suggested is to double the amount of data you use now to account for basic growth, then double it again to account for the increase in high-definition data sizes in the couple following years. For example, if you’ve now used 500GB of your storage, quadruple it to get the capacity you should get to future-proof your system, which in this case would be 2TB.
But this isn’t set in stone, plus, some people might want to completely change what they use their system for, like changing a work computer to a gaming PC, and so on. So, if you’re not exactly sure what capacity to get and have the fiscal liberty to pick from various capacities, here are some suggestions:
The average user – if you store only a couple games, software, and many different documents and files, 2-4TB of storage will be plenty for your needs in the following years.
The hardcore gamer – if you have some documents/files here and there and your PC is stock-full of various games, 4-6TB would most likely last you a long time. Modern triple-A games usually take up 40-60GB, meaning 1TB can hold 16-25 such games. The progress of virtual reality games and experiences will surely make them take up even more space, so future-proofing with a couple extra terabytes has never been more necessary.
Also, don’t forget to get a fast 7200RPM drive, or more preferably, the SSD + HDD combo (500GB SSD + 4TB HDD, for example). For gaming laptops, an SSHD might be a reasonable and more space-effective solution for performance. Get 7200RPM drives if you want to replace the internal 2.5-inch one in your console to avoid hardware compatibility issues with SSHDs.
The professional – if your job involves tons of rendering and other video/photo/game editing data, you probably know well enough that you should have a large and fast storage. 4TB and up would be a starting point for a beginner, with different professional’s needs being all across the board. Fast drives are also important here, and in this case, getting a bulkier RAID system with multiple drives might be a good idea. RAID systems combine multiple drives in various combinations to ensure either high transfer speeds or extra data integrity.
The office worker – if you work mainly with basic text documents and a few pictures at your workstation, that workstation will do just fine with a 1-2TB of storage. If you’re looking to find a storage solution for an entire office, larger NAS systems with NAS-optimized drives would be the best solution as they allow multiple computers to use the same storage.
For backup – backing up your data is important, so getting a backup drive roughly half the size of your main drive is a good starting point. This lets you backup at least the most important documents that you can’t exactly re-install or restore otherwise. Since backups rarely affect your main workload, the backup drive can easily be a slower, cheaper 5400RPM drive, as long as it’s from a trusted manufacturer.
RAID and NAS
The vast majority of hard disk drive users will simply connect the one drive they’ve bought to their computer and use it. However, there are a couple ways you can combine multiple HDDs to gain much higher performance, data security, and unified access between multiple devices.
Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is a system that connects multiple hard drives into one storage device which can use the summed up performance of multiple drives for speed, or store backups onto the same system to avoid data loss or partially do both. TechTarget has a relatively short yet simple explanation of the specifics of RAID with illustrations.
In short, to make a RAID system, you need at least two drives (preferably same capacity) and a controller, either onboard your computer’s processor (software RAID) or connected as an adapter (hardware RAID). After connecting everything, you can choose, via software, what RAID level (configuration) should be used:
RAID0 – uses what’s called striping to store parts of the same data to multiple drives, allowing those multiple drives to combine their limited performance and load files more quickly, effectively doubling the transfer speeds of a single drive.
RAID1 – simply stores copies of the same data to multiple drives (mirroring), thus cutting in half the total capacity of the system. If one drive fails, the other(s) can be used to retrieve the data.
RAID5 – combines the functionality of RAID0 and RAID1 by striping the data over multiple drives with added parity data. Parity data ensures redundancy, meaning that the parts of a striped file that are lost when a drive fails can be retrieved fully via these parity bits from the remaining drives. The only notable downside is the need for at least 3 drives (5+ optimum) to create a RAID5 system.
RAID10; 01 – either stripes data over one pair of drives and then mirrors that data onto another pair (01), or mirrors half of the striping data in one pair and the other half – on another pair (10). Both configurations need at least 4 drives.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a device that allows you to put one or more drives into a centralized storage device for a Local Area Network (LAN). Basically, this is a “storage box” that you can connect to multiple computers via USB or Ethernet cables, or via your Wi-fi connection, if you can get your hands on such a fancy NAS bay. NAS stations with multiple drives often support different RAID levels to further improve the practicality of their storage.
As we mentioned before, there is no “one drive to rule them all” and your best storage solution depends mainly on your needs and wants. Whether it’s high performance, low price, a combination of both, or a more specific usage (like RAID or NAS), we are confident in our picks for the best internal hard drives for each category listed above.
We hope you’ve found the best internal hard drive on our list, or at the very least – the knowledge needed to find one on your own. If you have any questions or information to add to our HDD buying guide (tips, technical info, personal experience, etc.), leave a comment down below and we’ll be sure to answer.