What is the big HDD size?

When it comes to storage capacity, bigger is often considered better. This is especially true when it comes to hard disk drives (HDDs). HDDs are a common type of data storage device used in computers and other devices. They store data magnetically on quickly rotating platters. Over the years, HDD capacities have grown enormously – from just a few megabytes in the earliest drives to multiple terabytes today. But just how big do HDDs get nowadays? Let’s take a look at some of the largest hard drives available and what capacities are considered “big” in the current market.

What is Considered a “Big” HDD Capacity?

There is no definitive threshold for what constitutes a “big” hard drive, as drive capacities continue to grow over time. However, in today’s market, HDDs upwards of 1 terabyte (TB) are generally considered to be on the larger side for consumer applications. Drives between 2-4 TB are common among enthusiasts and power users. Anything over 4 TB moves into the realm of “bigger” drives more suited for heavy workloads and enterprise use cases that demand vast storage pools.

To put those numbers in perspective, a 1 TB drive can typically store:

  • Around 250,000 photos
  • Over 230 hours of HD video
  • Hundreds of thousands of documents
  • Entire music libraries with thousands of songs
  • Hundreds of hours of gameplay recordings

So for general home and office use, anything from 1-6 TB provides ample capacity for most users. But on the higher end, drives in the 8-16 TB range are considered very large and geared more for servers, NAS devices, and other demanding storage needs. Anything above 16 TB moves into exotic territory usually reserved for specialized enterprise applications.

Current Largest HDD Capacities

Here are some of the highest capacity 3.5″ hard drives currently available on the market as of late 2022:

  • 20 TB – Western Digital Ultrastar DC HC570
  • 18 TB – Toshiba MG09ACA18TE
  • 16 TB – Seagate Exos X16
  • 14 TB – Toshiba MG08ACA14TE
  • 12 TB – Western Digital Gold Enterprise Class
  • 10 TB – Seagate IronWolf Pro

As you can see, the largest drives surpass 16 TB and reach capacities as high as 20 TB. These are highly advanced drives using technologies like shingled magnetic recording (SMR) and optimized firmware to hit new size milestones. They are aimed at data centers and racks upon racks of dense storage servers that demand immense capacity. The high costs of these drives, often hundreds of dollars, also limit them to commercial and industrial use cases.

Largest HDDs for Consumers

For regular consumer applications, the highest capacity drives fall more in the 8-14 TB range. Some current models include:

  • 14 TB – Western Digital Red Pro
  • 12 TB – Seagate BarraCuda Pro
  • 10 TB – Western Digital Purple
  • 8 TB – Toshiba N300 NAS

These drives provide excellent capacity for home and small office NAS devices, DAS backup, and users who need sizable local storage. The higher costs compared to smaller drives make them more suited for specific use cases rather than general storage needs. But they offer unmatched capacity from a single HDD, even for consumers.

History of HDD Capacity Growth

To appreciate just how staggering >10 TB HDDs are nowadays, it helps to look back at how drive sizes have grown over time. Here is a timeline of major capacity milestones in HDD history:

  • 1956 – IBM 350 RAMAC – 5 MB
  • 1980 – Seagate ST-506 – 5 MB
  • 1982 – Rodime RO352 – 10 MB
  • 1983 – Rodime RO3057 – 57 MB
  • 1992 – Western Digital Caviar AC31600 – 1.6 GB
  • 1999 – IBM Deskstar 75GXP – 75 GB
  • 2003 – Maxtor MaXLine III – 300 GB
  • 2009 – Seagate Barracuda XT – 2 TB
  • 2013 – Western Digital Ultrastar He6 – 6 TB
  • 2016 – Seagate BarraCuda Pro – 10 TB
  • 2022 – Western Digital Ultrastar DC HC570 – 20 TB

In the early days, capacities were measured in megabytes, progressing slowly from KBs to a few MBs in the 70s and 80s. Growth accelerated in the 90s with drives surpassing 1 GB. The 2000s saw the first major milestones like 10 GB in 2000, 100 GB in 2002, and 1 TB in 2009. Momentum continued into the 2010s with 4 TB in 2011, 6 TB in 2013, 8 TB in 2015, and finally 10 TB by 2016.

This shows the massive leaps in areal density and engineering that have enabled 20 TB+ drives today. While SSDs are now preferred for performance, HDDs continue pushing the envelope of just how much data can be crammed onto spinning magnetic platters. Based on historical trends, drives over 50 TB likely await in the next decade!

Advantages of Larger HDDs

Big high capacity HDDs have some distinct benefits compared to smaller drives:

  • More storage in one drive – Reduce device clutter with fewer needed drives.
  • Lower cost-per-gigabyte – Larger drives offer more storage capacity per dollar spent.
  • Ideal for backups – Large capacities facilitate archives, backups, and cold storage.
  • NAS and server use – Support many users, cameras, workloads on one NAS or server.
  • Future proofing – More headroom for expanding storage needs down the road.

The main trade-off is higher upfront cost. But for many situations, bigger HDDs can simplify storage architectures and management while providing huge pools of inexpensive storage.

Reasons for Such Large Drives

Some key factors enable manufacturers to keep increasing hard drive capacities:

  • Areal density improvements – More data stored per square inch via head and platter advances.
  • Shingled magnetic recording – Overlapping tracks to squeeze more onto each platter.
  • Helium-filled enclosures – Less turbulence and drag for more platters per drive.
  • Stronger error correction -tolerates higher bit densities and smaller physical bits.
  • Advanced sensors – Heads can fly closer to platters.

Together these technologies allow drive makers to stuff more terabytes into the same standard 3.5-inch HDD form factors we’ve had for years. While nearing fundamental physical limits, there is still room for incremental improvements for now. We are unlikely to see capacities grow at the same pace forever, but there are still gains to be had.

Use Cases for Huge HDDs

Some common applications that benefit from gigantic hard drives include:

  • Data centers – Massive storage needs, especially for cold data.
  • Surveillance systems – Video recording for many cameras over long durations.
  • Network attached storage – Serve many clients and workloads from one box.
  • Backup appliances – Cheaply store mountains of backup images on-premises.
  • Media collections – Archiving photos, videos, music, documents.

The overseers of big data sets are constantly looking for higher capacities to store more data at lower costs. Huge cheap HDDs allow maintaining much more data before needing to delete or place into external archival storage.

Downsides of Massive HDDs

Despite their benefits, jumbo hard drives also come with some downsides to consider:

  • High failure impact – More data is at risk if the drive fails.
  • Longer rebuild times – Hours to days of recovery in RAID.
  • Shorter mean time between failures – Statistically higher annual failure rates.
  • Higher prices – At least 4-5X the cost versus 2-4 TB drives.
  • High power draw – 10+ TB can consume 10+ watts continuously.

These factors make huge HDDs less suited to general computing use compared to SSDs or smaller HDDs. But with proper RAID and backups, their downsides are mitigated for users who need immense archives of infrequently accessed data.

The Future of HDD Capacities

While SSDs get most of the attention nowadays, hard drives quietly continue breaking records. As of 2022, capacities up to 26 TB are on the horizon using microwave assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) and other technologies. Based on historical HDD density improvements, analysts forecast up to 50 TB consumer HDDs arriving around 2030. Here is a projected timeline for future milestones:

  • 2023 – 24 TB
  • 2025 – 30 TB
  • 2027 – 36 TB
  • 2030 – 50 TB

These sizes seem staggeringly large now. But looking back, 10 TB likely also seemed incredible and unnecessary to many people just five years ago. Hardware always expands to fill needs. As 4K media and other data demands grow, even 50 TB may one day seem modest. Still, for now, HDDs like the 20 TB Ultrastar DC HC570 represent the pinnacle of data storage technology.


In summary, current “big” HDD sizes range from 8-16 TB for consumers and up to 20 TB for enterprises. Massive capacities are now enabled by technologies like SMR and helium-filled drives. While large HDDs have downsides like higher failure impact and costs, their benefits include lower cost-per-gigabyte, simplified storage architectures, and support for vast cold datasets. Expect drive sizes to continue slowly growing, hitting historic milestones like 50 TB later this decade. But for now, options like the 20 TB Western Digital Ultrastar provide unprecedented storage density in a standard 3.5-inch HDD form factor.

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