What is the highest capacity hard drive?

A hard disk drive (HDD) is a data storage device used in computers that stores user data on magnetic disks which are rotated rapidly. These rotating disks are coated with magnetic material that allows data to be recorded in binary code using changes in magnetic orientation. HDDs have gone through decades of advancement to achieve ever higher storage capacities and faster data access.

The capacity of hard drives has grown exponentially over the past few decades. In 1984, IBM introduced one of the first hard drives for personal computers with a capacity of just 5MB. By the early 1990s capacities reached 100s of MBs, and by the late 90s they reached multiple GBs. In the 2000s capacities went from 10s of GBs to 100s of GBs. Today’s consumer HDDs can store 10s of TBs of data.

High capacity storage is crucial for businesses, data centers, and personal use. As our digital lives expand, the need for storage space increases. HDDs enable us to store large media libraries, archives of data, backups, and more. Understanding the upper limits of HDD capacity provides insight into meeting our growing storage needs.

Current Records

As of September 2021, the largest commercially available hard drive is the Seagate Exos 20+ HDD, with a capacity of 20 terabytes (TB). This was announced in September 2021 as the world’s highest capacity hard drive available for purchase.(1)

Other top high capacity hard drives currently on the market include:

  • Western Digital Ultrastar DC HC550 – 18TB
  • Toshiba MG09 – 18TB
  • Seagate Exos X16 – 16TB
  • WD Gold – 16TB

Seagate Technology has announced plans to begin shipping 20TB hard disk drives (HDDs) by the end of 2020, with 50TB drives expected by 2026. Competitors like Western Digital are also working on higher capacity drives beyond 20TB. (2)

Technology Behind Large Drives

Hard drive manufacturers are constantly developing new technologies to achieve higher capacities. Some of the key innovations include:

PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording) – Allowed drive makers to transition from longitudinal recording to perpendicular recording. This enabled higher platter densities and more data per platter. PMR has allowed capacities to scale up over the years.

SMR (shingled magnetic recording) – A newer recording method that increases platter density by overlapping tracks, similar to shingles on a roof. However, SMR can impact performance in some workloads (Horizon, 2021).

HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) – Uses laser technology and high heat to enable even denser recording densities. HAMR is still an emerging technology but shows promise for major capacity jumps in the future.

Increasing platter count – Drive manufacturers have added more platters over time, with higher-capacity drives featuring up to nine platters, for 18 total recording surfaces.

Arecal density improvements – The number of bits that can be stored per square inch has steadily grown year-over-year, enabling more capacity in the same physical space.

By combining platter density gains with increases in platter counts and new recording methods like SMR and HAMR, drive makers have scaled capacities dramatically in recent years, from 4TB consumer drives just a few years ago to 20TB+ in enterprise today.

Uses Cases

High capacity hard drives are essential for organizations that need to store massive amounts of data. Some key use cases where large capacity drives are required include:

Data centers need high capacity drives for storing all the data generated by cloud applications and services. For example, hyperscale data centers operated by companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google rely on high capacity hard drives in their storage infrastructure.

Archives such as medical records, financial transactions, media content, etc. require enormous storage capabilities. Large capacity HDDs are ideal for securely archiving data for many years.

Media companies have insatiable storage needs driven by high resolution photos, videos, audio files, and graphics. 22TB hard drives can provide the ample capacity needed for managing huge media libraries.

Enterprises across many industries like healthcare, finance, manufacturing, etc. depend on high capacity storage for their growing structured and unstructured data. From virtual machines to databases, high capacity HDDs help meet enterprise storage demands.

Cost Considerations

The high capacity hard drives currently on the market do come at a premium price point. While lower capacity drives such as 1TB can be purchased for under $50, the highest capacity consumer hard drives of 16TB have an MSRP over $300. Looking at the cost per gigabyte, lower capacity drives are around $0.03 – $0.05 per GB, while 16TB models are around $0.018 – $0.021 per GB according to Disk Prices.

For budget-conscious consumers or small business owners, the high cost of top capacity drives may be prohibitive. There are more affordable options for bulk storage at the 4-8TB capacity which provide a better value at $0.025 – $0.03 per GB. External USB hard drive enclosures are another way to utilize cheaper bare internal drives for mass storage needs. Though lower capacity, these alternatives offer sufficient storage for many use cases at a fraction of the price.

Reliability Factors

As hard drive capacity increases, reliability can become a concern. Larger drives have a higher failure rate compared to smaller drives, according to a study by Backblaze analyzing hard drive reliability (https://www.enterprisestorageforum.com/hardware/hdd-market-outlook/). The study found 3 and 4 TB drives had annualized failure rates around 4%, while 10-12 TB drives ranged from 5-11%.

To improve reliability with large capacity drives, using RAID configurations is recommended. RAID sets up mirrored or redundant disks so if one fails, data is not lost. Common recommendations are RAID 1 for mirroring, and RAID 5 for distributing parity data across disks. Properly implemented RAID improves reliability and uptime for large arrays of high capacity drives.

Data Management

The need for more sophisticated data management increases with massive storage capacities like the highest capacity hard drives. With abundant cheap storage, organizations tend not to delete data. This results in tremendous data growth that requires more hierarchical storage management.

Hierarchical storage management enables automatically moving data between high-performance storage and low-cost storage based on how often it is accessed. Frequently accessed data stays on fast storage like SSDs or high-speed HDDs. Rarely accessed data gets moved to slower, denser drives. This balance of speed and capacity reduces costs while still providing access.

Tools like storage resource management (SRM) software help manage large storage environments. SRM provides visibility into storage use and patterns to optimize resources. It enables tiering, archiving, migration and other automation to reduce management overhead. Intelligent data management is critical with the largest hard drives to store and access data efficiently.

As the article from TechTarget explains, “The larger hard drives and solid-state drives get, the more important storage management becomes.”1 With thoughtful information lifecycle management, organizations can fully utilize enormous drive capacities.

Future Outlook

Emerging technologies promise to continue increasing hard drive capacities in the future. Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) is one method that uses a laser diode to heat the recording medium and enable greater density and capacity, with aims to reach up to 80TB by 2025 according to Seagate’s predictions (Source). Microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) is another technology that researchers are exploring to potentially reach 100TB+ in the next decade.

Two-dimensional magnetic recording is also on the horizon, which could enable capacities beyond 1PB by stacking multiple recording layers. While technical challenges remain, companies like Seagate are investing heavily in R&D to bring these innovations to market within the next 5-10 years. As Moore’s law slows for semiconductor chips, data storage demands continue growing exponentially, providing strong economic incentives to push hard drive capacities ever higher through leveraging new technologies.

Recommendations for High Capacity Hard Drives

When selecting a high capacity hard drive, it’s important to consider your specific needs and budget. Here are some recommendations for the best high capacity drives for different use cases:

Best for Home Use

For home users who need a lot of storage for photos, videos, movies and other personal files, a 6-8TB desktop external hard drive provides ample space. Top picks are the WD My Book Duo and Seagate Backup Plus Hub which offer reliable performance, easy setup and affordable prices around $200.

Best for Creative Professionals

Video editors, photographers and graphics professionals require both high capacity and fast data transfer speeds. A Thunderbolt 3 RAID storage device like the Promise Pegasus3 R8 offers up to 48TB of storage and read/write speeds up to 1600MB/s to handle large media files.

Best for Small Business Servers

Small business servers need lots of affordable storage. The Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS drive provides capacities up to 14TB along with features like built-in RAID optimization and recovery tools for only around $500.

Best for Data Centers

Data centers demand the highest capacities to store enormous datasets. Helium-filled enterprise hard drives like the Seagate Exos X16 can hold vast amounts of data with 16TB of capacity in a standard 3.5-inch form factor for about $500 per drive.

Evaluating your specific storage requirements and budget will help determine the ideal high capacity hard drive for your needs.


In summary, hard drive capacities continue to increase thanks to advances in technologies like SMR and HAMR. Today, the highest capacity consumer hard drive is 20TB, achieved by drives like the Western Digital Ultrastar DC HC570. However, even larger drives up to 30-40TB are in development. These ultra-high capacity drives enable new use cases like enterprise-scale servers and storage appliances. Reliability and durability remain a concern with leading-edge drives, so proper data management and redundancy planning are critical. Overall, the future looks bright for higher capacity drives as new innovations emerge. Consumers and businesses alike should stay tuned for drives beyond 20TB.

Looking ahead, we can expect capacities to continue growing over the next 5-10 years. However, we may start to see diminishing returns on increased densities as technologies like SMR and HAMR reach physical limitations. Alternative breakthroughs like laser-assisted magnetic recording (LAMR) could push capacities even higher in the long run. Regardless, storage will remain a crucial need as data generation expands exponentially. With thoughtful planning and innovation, the storage industry seems poised to keep pace with our data growth well into the future.