How expensive is a computer hard drive?

Hard drives are a key component of any computer system, providing the storage capacity for the operating system, programs, and data. With advances in technology, hard drive prices have declined steadily over the past decades while storage capacities have increased dramatically. However, hard drives can still represent a significant portion of the overall cost of a computer system. The price of a hard drive depends on several factors, including storage capacity, interface type, rotational speed, and brand.

Quick Answers

How much does the average hard drive cost?

The average cost for a consumer-grade internal hard drive is between $40 and $100 for capacities of 500GB to 2TB. High performance and enterprise-class drives can range from $200 up to $1000 or more. External portable hard drives cost between $50 and $150 for 500GB to 2TB.

What is the cheapest hard drive option?

The cheapest hard drive options are typically older model internal hard drives in the 500GB to 1TB range. These can often be found for $40 or less. External portable hard drives also offer a lower cost option at around $50 for 500GB.

What factors affect hard drive prices?

Capacity, interface type, speed (RPM), cache size, and brand/quality all impact hard drive pricing. Higher capacity, faster RPM, larger cache, and premium brands all lead to higher costs. Newer interfaces like SATA III and USB 3.0 also come at a premium.

Internal Hard Drives

Internal hard drives designed for desktop computers typically come in two size formats – 3.5 inches and 2.5 inches. 3.5 inch hard drives are the most common, designed to be mounted into drive bays in desktop cases. 2.5 inch drives are smaller in physical size and often used in laptops. Here is an overview of pricing across different capacities and RPM speeds:

500GB to 1TB

– 5400RPM 3.5″ – $40 to $60
– 7200RPM 3.5″ – $45 to $75
– 5400RPM 2.5″ – $45 to $65
– 7200RPM 2.5″ – $50 to $70

2TB to 4TB

– 5400RPM 3.5″ – $55 to $95
– 7200RPM 3.5″ – $65 to $120
– 5400RPM 2.5″ – $60 to $110
– 7200RPM 2.5″ – $80 to $140

6TB to 10TB

– 5400RPM 3.5″ – $140 to $260
– 7200RPM 3.5″ – $160 to $300
– 10K-15K RPM 3.5″ – $250 to $500

12TB to 16TB

– 5400RPM 3.5″ – $300 to $600
– 7200RPM 3.5″ – $350 to $700
– 10K-15K RPM 3.5″ – $500 to $1000

As you can see, pricing increases steadily with higher capacities. Fast, high performance 10K-15K RPM drives range from $250 into the thousands. The fastest SSD solid state drives can cost anywhere from $200 up to $2000 depending on performance level and capacity.

External Hard Drives

External hard drives provide a portable way to add storage capacity via USB, Thunderbolt, or other connections. They often use 2.5″ drives inside the external enclosure. Here are typical price ranges:

Portable External – 500GB to 2TB

– USB 3.0 – $50 to $100
– USB-C – $60 to $120
– Thunderbolt – $120 to $200

Desktop External – 3TB to 10TB

– USB 3.0 – $80 to $250
– USB-C – $100 to $280
– Thunderbolt – $200 to $500

High Capacity External – 12TB to 16TB

– USB 3.0 – $300 to $600
– USB-C – $350 to $700
– Thunderbolt – $500 to $900

Portable external options with 500GB to 2TB capacities and USB 3.0 offer the most affordable options starting around $50. Larger desktop external drives and high performance interfaces add significant cost at the higher capacities.

Factors That Influence Hard Drive Pricing

There are several key factors that determine the cost of a hard drive. Higher performance and higher capacities drive the price up.

Storage Capacity

Storage capacity is one of the biggest determining factors of price. As you can see from the pricing tables above, a 16TB drive costs significantly more than a 1TB drive. This is due to higher material costs as larger capacity drives require more platters and heads.

Interface Type

The interface used to connect the hard drive impacts cost as well. Newer interfaces like USB 3.0, USB-C, and Thunderbolt will command a premium over older SATA connections.

Rotational Speed (RPM)

Faster RPMs lead to improved performance, but also increase prices. 15K RPM drives are exceptionally fast, but cost far more than entry level 5400RPM drives optimized for storage capacity.

Cache Size

The amount of cache or buffer memory also factors into the cost of a hard drive. More cache (64MB or 128MB) can mean better performance. But drives focused purely on cheap storage may have only 8MB or 16MB cache.

Brand and Quality

Major brands like Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba generally command a small premium over lesser known brands. But the quality and warranty can make this worthwhile for drives storing important data.

Form Factor

3.5″ desktop drives tend to be less expensive compared to smaller 2.5″ drives for the same capacity. But 2.5″ drives are required for laptop drives.

Advanced Features

Additional features like encryption, backup software, or enhanced warranties can also slightly increase the price over base configurations.

Price Trends Over Time

Hard disk drive prices have consistently fallen over the past decades. This 1980s price chart shows the steep decline in cost per megabyte over the early years. And this trend has continued from the 90s through today. Some key pricing trends include:

  • 1980s – From $10 per MB down to under $1 per MB
  • 1990s – Sub $1 per MB to 10 cents per MB
  • 2000s – 10 cents per MB down to just a few cents per MB
  • 2010s – Under 5 cents per GB now common for consumer hard drives

While SSD and flash storage has disrupted the laptop and enterprise market, traditional spinning drive remain dominant in consumer desktops and external storage due to this ongoing price decline while capacities continue to grow.

Estimated Lifespan Cost Analysis

When evaluating the true cost of a hard drive purchase, it helps to factor in estimated lifespan and the cost per TB per year. Here is a comparison of 1TB, 4TB and 10TB hard drives.

Drive Capacity Estimated Cost Expected Lifespan Cost Per Year Cost Per TB Per Year
1TB $50 5 years $10 $10
4TB $100 5 years $20 $5
10TB $250 5 years $50 $5

Factoring in expected working lifespan, the larger 4TB and 10TB drives end up being better values per TB per year compared to the 1TB option. Of course, the higher upfront cost may still be prohibitive for some budgets. But if your storage needs call for a higher capacity drive, the long term costs are very competitive.

Brand Comparison

The three major brands – Seagate, Western Digital, and Toshiba – account for the vast majority of the market. Which brand offers the best value? Here is a brief comparison:


– Broad range of drive types and capacities
– Competitive pricing on core hard drive models
– Very popular with strong market share
– Reliability issues on some drive models

Western Digital

– Also very broad product selection
– Drives frequently priced closely to Seagate
– Highly rated for reliability and warranty service
– Slight premium on some models


– Known for budget drives with competitive pricing
– Limited high capacity and high performance offerings
– Good value on entry level configurations
– Received reputation improved recently

Overall, choose Western Digital or Seagate for a balance of value and reliability. Look at Toshiba for lower cost on basic storage needs. And of course, shop around for sales and special pricing which frequently happens.

Is an SSD Hard Drive Worth the High Cost?

SSD drives based on flash memory provide much higher performance than traditional spinning hard drives. But they come at a significant price premium. A 1TB SSD may cost 5-10X the price of a 1TB regular hard drive!

Here are the key advantages of SSD drives:

  • Faster access and data transfer speeds
  • Much higher reliability and durability
  • Lower power consumption
  • Lower heat output and noise

For a desktop user on a tight budget, getting a large traditional hard drive may be preferred. But for those running intensive applications, storing critical data, or wanting a super fast system, SSD is worth considering.

The price gap is slowly decreasing over time. And SSD prices continue to fall. For those who can afford it, SSD provides a very noticeable boost in performance and responsiveness when used as the primary system drive. Combining an SSD boot drive with a traditional hard drive data drive can offer a good compromise.

Getting the Best Hard Drive Deal

Here are some tips for getting the most for your money when buying a new hard drive:

Consider Refurbished Drives

Refurbished and used hard drives can be a good way to save money. Look for reputable retailers that provide testing and warranties with used drives.

Shop Multiple Retailers

Check prices from a variety of online retailers including Amazon, Newegg, Best Buy, eBay, and more. Price fluctuations are common.

Timing Discounts

Major holiday weekends and back-to-school season often have sale promotions on storage. Black Friday and Cyber Monday can offer deep discounts.

Bundle With System

Buying a hard drive bundled with a new computer or external enclosure can sometimes be cheaper than standalone drive pricing.

Consider Slower RPM Speed

For basic storage needs, a 5400RPM drive provides good value vs paying a premium for 7200RPM models.


While improving technology continues to bring down the cost of hard drives, they still represent a significant portion of overall computer spending. Paying attention to factors like capacity, interface, RPM speed, and brand can help get the best value. Consider how capacity affects the long term costs on a per TB per year basis. And watch for holiday sales, bundles, and refurbished discounts to help stretch your budget further. With storage needs growing constantly, getting an affordable quality hard drive is ideal for both consumers and businesses.