Hard disk roundup: every category tested
High-capacity desktop drives have never been so affordable. Darien Graham-Smith puts 23 to the test to find the best
It’s 35 years since IBM introduced the first modern-style hard disk, the 3340 Direct Access Storage Facility – the ‘Winchester drive’ to its friends – with a capacity of 35MB. Today, that seems laughably small: modern PCs tend to come with a drive capacity of hundreds of gigabytes.
But while modern PCs may have huge storage capabilities, it’s also easier than ever to fill that space. Installing Vista eats up around 7GB before you even run a program. Applications and games have grown too: Office 2007 needs 1.5GB of space, while Crysis recommends 12GB. Adobe Creative Suite CS3 officially requires a mammoth 22GB for a complete installation.
The real space-hog, though, is media files. The modern PC is increasingly a hub for digital music and video, and a media library can easily devour tens or even hundreds of gigabytes.
If you use a PC for editing your own videos you can very quickly generate gigabytes of raw footage and working files as well.
The good news is that extra storage is more affordable than ever. Back in the 1970s, you could find yourself paying $75 or more per megabyte of hard disk space. Today’s 3.5in desktop drives work out closer to 20c per gigabyte – a phenomenal price drop, even before you take inflation into account.
What’s more, while prices have dropped, capacities have gone through the roof. All the major hard disk manufacturers now offer drives capable of storing an immense 1,000GB – one terabyte – of data. So whether you’re building a new desktop PC or adding a second drive to an existing machine, there’s definitely no need to skimp on storage.
But which drive is best for you? This month we take a comprehensive cross-section of the high-capacity 3.5in SATA hard disk market, from 500GB upwards, examining major models from all four main manufacturers, to help you identify the perfect drive.The categories
Over the coming pages, you’ll see we’ve divided this month’s drives into three categories. The first category is Value drives
. Put simply, these are the models that will appeal if your first concern is your budget: they’re the cheapest disks here, and while you won’t get a full terabyte for this sort of money, there is a 640GB model and even a 750GB drive available for well under $200.
The second category is Mainstream drives
. These are drives for those willing to spend a little bit more than the minimum, perhaps to get a performance boost or the maximum possible storage space. We look at the benefits each drive offers and consider whether those benefits are worth the price premium.
Finally, we come to Specialist drives
Some are intended to keep noise or power consumption low, while others are optimised for a server workload. We put each drive through its paces to see how it walks the walk.
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This Group Test appeared in the September, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine