Are 2.5 and 3.5 SATA the same?

This article compares 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SATA hard drives to understand the key differences between the two form factors. We will examine the physical size differences, common applications, power consumption, performance, capacity, cost, and interfaces of 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA HDDs. By the end, you will have a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each form factor to help inform purchase decisions.

Physical Size Difference

While there are some slight variations between models, 2.5-inch hard disk drives (HDDs) measure approximately 2.75 inches wide by 3.96 inches long by 0.28 inches thick. 3.5-inch HDDs, on the other hand, measure around 4 inches wide by 5.75 inches long by 1 inch thick. As you can see, 3.5-inch drives are significantly larger in each dimension. This is the most obvious visible difference between the two drive sizes.

The reason for the size difference is that 3.5-inch drives originally needed more space in order to hold the larger physical disks required by earlier hard drive technology. However, modern drives can store much more data on smaller platters. So while 3.5-inch drives still maintain their larger size for backwards compatibility, the extra physical space is no longer required for capacity reasons. 2.5-inch drives are designed to be smaller in order to fit into compact laptops.


Common Applications

2.5″ drives are commonly used in laptops, tablets, and other portable devices where physical space is limited. The small size allows manufacturers to design thinner and lighter devices. 2.5″ drives draw less power, generating less heat which is also important in mobile devices.

3.5″ drives are typically used in desktop PCs, servers, and other systems where space is less constrained. The larger size allows for higher capacities. 3.5″ drives can deliver faster performance and require less dense data storage, contributing to better reliability. The larger platters generate more heat so 3.5″ drives are better suited for use in well-ventilated tower cases [1].

In summary, the portability and compact size make 2.5″ drives ideal for laptops and mobile devices, while 3.5″ drives are the choice for maximizing capacity and performance in desktops, servers, and external storage enclosures.

Power Consumption

The 2.5 inch hard drives are designed to run off just the 5V power rail, allowing them to consume less energy. The typical power consumption of a 2.5 inch HDD ranges from 1.8 to 2.5 watts when idle, and from 1.8 to 2.7 watts under load.

In contrast, 3.5 inch hard drives require both 5V and 12V power rails to operate. This results in greater power draw – ranging from 4.5 to 7 watts at idle, and from 6 to 9 watts under load. The additional mechanical components in the 3.5 inch form factor require more energy to spin up and operate.

According to Arstechnica (source), the smaller size and lower power needs of 2.5 inch drives make them well-suited for laptops and external enclosures where power efficiency is important. The higher power demands of 3.5 inch drives require desktop computer power supplies designed to deliver both 5V and 12V rails.


There are some key performance differences between 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA hard drives related to rotational speed and cache size.

3.5″ desktop hard drives typically spin at faster RPMs, with 7200 RPM being common. This allows for faster data access and transfer speeds. 2.5″ notebook drives often spin at just 5400 RPM due to power and thermal constraints in laptops. Some 7200 and even 10,000 RPM 2.5″ drives exist, but are less common.1

In addition, 3.5″ drives tend to have larger cache sizes, with 64 or 128 MB caches common. 2.5″ drives may have just 8 or 16 MB caches. More cache can enable faster access to frequently used data.2

Overall, the higher rotational speeds and larger caches of 3.5″ drives allow for significantly better performance – higher transfer rates and lower access times. However, some high performance 2.5″ drives can match or even exceed the speeds of low RPM 3.5″ drives.


2.5″ drives are available in capacities ranging from 160GB up to 2TB, while 3.5″ drives go much higher, with common capacities from 500GB to 16TB. The reason 3.5″ drives can offer much higher capacities is the larger physical size allowing for more platters inside the drive. For example, a 1TB 2.5″ drive will typically have two 500GB platters, while a 10TB 3.5″ drive can fit up to five 2TB platters. This makes 3.5″ drives better suited for applications requiring massive storage like servers and NAS devices. However, 2.5″ drives are catching up, with some models now reaching 5TB. For typical desktop use and portable external storage, the capacities of 2.5″ drives are usually sufficient.

In summary, 3.5″ drives can offer much larger maximum capacities thanks to more room for additional platters, with 10TB+ common. 2.5″ drives top out around 2TB currently, but offer sufficient capacities for typical laptops and external storage.


2.5″ drives typically cost more per gigabyte compared to 3.5″ drives. According to Disk Prices, a 1TB 2.5″ HDD costs around $0.04 per GB, while a 1TB 3.5″ HDD costs around $0.02 per GB. The smaller physical size of 2.5” drives makes them more expensive to manufacture.

For SSD drives, the cost difference is less pronounced but still favors 3.5”. A 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD costs around $0.09 per GB, while a 1TB 3.5” SATA SSD is around $0.07 per GB according to current market pricing.

In summary, 3.5″ drives provide more storage capacity per dollar compared to 2.5″ drives for both HDDs and SSDs. The larger physical size allows for greater storage density and lower manufacturing costs per GB.


Both 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives use the same SATA interface and are fully compatible with each other. According to SuperUser, “the connectors are identical. A rule of thumb, if they would have been different, it would simply have a different shape to make sure there would be no connector damage or data corruption.”

The SATA interface was designed to be backwards and forwards compatible. As noted on Quora, “SATA 3 is backward compatible with SATA 2, meaning you can use a SATA 3 hard drive with a SATA 2 controller and vice-versa.” This means that 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives, whether SATA 2 or 3, can be used interchangeably without issue.

On the MajorGeeks forum, users confirm that “wrt SATA interfaces on 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard disks: are they physically the same? The answer is yes, the SATA interface is identical between the form factors.”

In summary, both 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drives use the same SATA connector and interface specification. They are fully compatible with each other from a connection standpoint.


Both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SATA drives use the same SATA interface to connect to computers, but have some key differences:

  • Physical size – 2.5-inch drives are smaller and often used in laptops, while 3.5-inch drives are larger and used in desktops.
  • Power consumption – 2.5-inch drives typically use less power, making them better for mobile devices.
  • Performance – 3.5-inch drives tend to have higher maximum speeds and bandwidth.
  • Capacity – 3.5-inch drives generally have higher maximum capacities.
  • Cost per gigabyte – 2.5-inch drives tend to be more expensive per gigabyte of storage.

However, there is overlap between the two in terms of performance and capacity. Overall, the main differences come down to physical size and power consumption due to the different use cases.


When considering whether to use a 2.5 or 3.5 inch SATA drive, it mainly comes down to the size constraints and performance needs for your specific computer system. The smaller physical size of 2.5 inch drives makes them preferable for laptops, small form factor PCs, and other compact devices where internal space is limited. However, 3.5 inch drives are better suited for desktop PCs and workstations that have more internal drive bays, as they offer faster speeds and higher storage capacities per terabyte at a lower cost.

If you need a large amount of storage and the fastest speeds for gaming or creative work on a desktop PC, a 3.5 inch drive is likely the best choice. For a general use laptop or mobile device where portability is key, a 2.5 inch drive makes more sense. In servers and data centers where density and lower power draw are priorities, 2.5 inch drives again have advantages. Consider the intended system and your performance versus size needs when deciding between these two common SATA drive form factors.