Does disk size matter?

Why Does Hard Drive Size Matter?

With today’s ever-growing need for digital storage, hard drive capacity has become a critical factor for computer users. As operating systems, applications, photos, videos, and other files consume more and more space, having enough storage is essential. But how much is really needed? And at what point do larger drives provide diminishing returns? This article explores the importance of disk size, from typical use cases to recent advances that aim to satisfy our seemingly unquenchable thirst for space.

Brief history of hard drive sizes

For most of the personal computer era, hard drive sizes followed Moore’s law, roughly doubling in capacity every couple years. Early hard drives in the 1980s were typically under 10 megabytes. In 1992 the average hard drive was around 80-120 megabytes, then they grew to gigabyte sizes in the late 90s. The growth continued exponentially through the 2000s and 2010s, to the multi-terabyte drives common today.

What used to be considered massive amounts of storage are almost quaint by today’s standards. The large capacity drives that were once only affordable to businesses and power users are now the norm for consumer desktops and laptops. Even though SSDs are also growing in size, classic hard drives continue advancing and remain far cheaper per gigabyte.

Typical uses for different drive sizes

Hard drives come in a wide range of sizes, from small SSDs of just a few gigabytes to massive HDDs of multiple terabytes. The appropriate size for a hard drive depends on the intended use. Generally speaking, hard drives fall into three main categories based on typical usage:

Smaller SSDs from 128GB to 512GB are ideal for installing an operating system (OS) and productivity apps. The fast speeds of SSDs allow for quick booting and launching programs. These drives are often used in laptops, tablets, and ultrabooks where minimal size and weight are desired.

Mid-range HDDs from 500GB to 2TB work well for personal media storage and gaming. The large capacities allow storing photos, music, videos, and games while the lower cost per gigabyte makes these drives an affordable solution. They’re commonly used as primary internal storage in desktop PCs.

Larger HDDs with 4TB or more are suited for backup and archive purposes. The massive amounts of storage space can hold system images, video archives, important documents, and other files that don’t need fast access speeds. Network attached storage (NAS) devices commonly use these high capacity drives.[1]

Factors that determine needed drive size

One major factor in determining the size of hard drive you need is the resolution of your media files. As video, photo, and audio files move to higher resolutions like 4K, the file sizes increase dramatically. For example, a 5 minute 4K video can be up to 5 GB in size or more. So if you work regularly with high resolution media, you’ll need substantially larger drives.

According to SalvageData experts, “The emergence of high-resolution file formats like 4K video require a massive amount of storage space. Professionals that work in video production, 3D animation, CAD, photography, audiophiles and even gamers need extra capacity.”1

The bottom line is if you use high resolution media files, you’ll likely need drives in the multi-terabyte range just to store your working files and archives.

Recommended minimum sizes

When considering minimum hard drive size, it depends largely on the intended use case. Here are some general guidelines for minimum sizes by common use:

For a basic home computer used for web browsing, email, and office tasks, a minimum of 80-120GB is sufficient. This allows for the OS, programs, and some files and media storage.

For a gaming computer, a minimum of 250GB is recommended to handle large game installs, saved games, and media. More hardcore gamers may want 500GB+.

For a media storage drive for photos, music, and video, a minimum of 500GB provides reasonable space. 1TB or larger is better for extensive libraries.

For video production and editing, a dedicated drive of at least 1TB is recommended, with 2TB or more being ideal.

For a business, server, or network storage use, capacities of 500GB to multiple terabytes are common depending on needs.

Diminishing Returns on Larger Drives

While larger hard drives provide more storage capacity, most average users do not need or utilize the extra space. According to a 2021 article by VAST Data, performance diminishes as drive sizes increase, with most noticeable impacts above 10TB capacities ( Extra unused space can slow down the drive and is unnecessary for typical personal computing needs.

For general home and office use, most users find 320GB to 2TB capacities sufficient, with power users requiring up to 8TB. Space beyond this provides little added practical value for individuals, though larger drives up to 16TB may suit prosumers generating lots of high definition video. But as TechTarget notes, performance gains have tapered off in recent years as hard drive technology hits limits, providing less incentive to buy bigger (

Unless constantly working with extremely large files for media production or data analysis, average users are better off saving money on mid-sized drives. Focus instead on configuration, like spreading data across multiple lower capacity drives, using external storage, or leveraging cloud backups. With the right setup, even modest 320GB or 500GB drives can comfortably meet typical needs.

Managing storage across multiple drives

To manage large amounts of data across multiple drives, users have two main options: partition the drives or use Windows Storage Spaces. Partitioning allows dividing a single physical drive into multiple logical drives with separate file systems. This allows organizing data more granularly across one large drive. However, there are limits to the number and size of partitions.

A more flexible approach is using the Storage Spaces feature built into Windows. As explained in this PC Mag article, Storage Spaces allows combining multiple physical drives into a single logical drive. This spans the storage capacity across multiple disks and can provide resiliency against drive failures.

Some key benefits of Storage Spaces include the ability to mix different sized drives, add additional drives later, create mirrored or striped arrays for performance/redundancy, and dynamically extend or shrink volumes. This provides more flexibility than traditional RAID while simplifying storage management. The combined space appears as a single drive which applications and users can seamlessly access without worrying about spanning data across disks.

Alternatives to Large Local Storage

As hard drive sizes have increased, many users may be tempted to buy larger drives for extra storage space. However, there are alternatives to relying solely on massive local hard drives.

One popular option is cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Apple iCloud. These allow you to store files remotely on the cloud and access them from any device. Cloud services provide abundant capacity without occupying local disk space. And features like file syncing and automated backups make cloud storage very convenient. According to Alteon, cloud storage is expanding while consumer hard drive shipments decline.

External hard drives are another alternative for add-on storage without replacing your main internal drive. External drives connect via USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire, or WiFi. They provide portability and give you expanded capacity in a separate enclosure, rather than filling up your PC or laptop’s internal drive bays. External SSDs like those from Samsung offer better performance than mechanical HDDs. As Alliance Computer notes, external SSDs provide faster transfer speeds, durability, silent operation, and compact size compared to HDDs.

Recent advances in storage tech

In recent years, there have been several notable advances in storage technology that aim to increase capacity and performance. Two emerging standards for hard disk drives are heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) and microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR). HAMR uses a laser to briefly heat the disk platter to allow the drive heads to flip magnetic polarity with less magnetic force, enabling higher densities (Source: MAMR relies on microwave radiation to reduce the amount of magnetic force needed (Source:

New form factors like M.2 SSDs offer compact and versatile storage options. NVMe protocol enables faster speeds compared to SATA. Optane memory combines attributes of SSDs and RAM for improved performance (Source: These advances aim to enhance capacity, speed, reliability, and flexibility to meet evolving data storage needs.


In conclusion, hard drive sizes have increased dramatically over the past few decades, from megabytes to terabytes. While larger drives provide more storage capacity, they can be excessive for many users. The sweet spot for most home users is likely 500GB to 2TB, providing ample space for the operating system, programs, media files and some future growth. Business and creative professionals working with large files may require much bigger drives. Looking ahead, SSDs and cloud storage will continue displacing traditional hard drives. But for local storage, drives will keep getting larger and cheaper. The key is to carefully weigh your needs and buy adequate capacity without overspending. With some planning, most users can thrive with modestly sized drives.