Laptop hard drives have come a long way in terms of storage capacity. Where laptops originally came with hard drives in the 10s or 100s of gigabytes, it’s now possible to get laptops with multiple terabyte hard drives. For most casual users, this is far more storage space than they will ever need. However, for power users who work with large multimedia files or need a portable workstation, having the maximum hard drive capacity can be important.
Current Largest Laptop Hard Drive Capacities
As of late 2022, the largest widely available hard drive capacities for laptops are:
Four terabyte laptop hard drives started to become available around 2020. Most major laptop manufacturers offer at least some models that can be configured with a 4TB hard drive. Often it is a high-end configuration option targeted at power users.
Key things to know about 4TB laptop hard drives:
- The physical size of the hard drive remains 2.5 inches.
- They almost always use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology.
- Common spindle speeds are 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM.
- Can be a HDD (hard disk drive) or SSHD (solid state hybrid drive).
- 4TB 2.5″ HDDs weigh around 100-150 grams.
- Top manufacturers include Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba.
- Add around $100-$300 to a laptop’s base price for a 4TB HDD upgrade.
A small number of gaming or mobile workstation laptops offer 5TB hard drive configurations. For example, Dell offers a 5TB SSHD in their Alienware laptops. Overall, the 5TB capacity remains relatively rare among major manufacturers in late 2022.
Key attributes of 5TB laptop hard drives:
- Require at least two hard drive platters to reach 5TB capacity.
- Mostly use a SATA III interface, some use PCIe NVMe.
- 2.5″ form factor, 15mm z-height.
- Weight is over 200 grams.
- 5400 or 7200 RPM spindle speeds.
- Average sequential read/write speeds of 100-150 MB/s.
- Add $200-$400 to a laptop’s base price for a 5TB upgrade.
A few gaming laptop models offer 6TB storage configurations, pushing the limits of what is possible with current hard drive technology in a 2.5″ form factor. MSI offers a 6TB option in some of their high-end Titan and Raider series gaming laptops.
Attributes of cutting edge 6TB 2.5″ hard drives:
- Require three platters to reach 6TB, allowing for greater capacities.
- 15mm z-height to accommodate additional platters.
- Average 210-220 grams in weight.
- Mostly 5400 RPM spindle speed to optimize density.
- Average read/write speeds around 150 MB/s.
- Add $300-$500 premium over base model hard drive.
While some laptops can accept the 6TB 2.5″ drives, the extra thickness and weight limits them to larger gaming and mobile workstation models. The z-height may not fit most thin and light consumer laptops.
Largest Laptop Hard Drives on the Horizon
Hard drive manufacturers continue to improve areal density and introduce new technologies to increase capacities. Here are some developments that could lead to even larger laptop hard drives in the next few years:
8TB 2.5″ Hard Drives
In 2019, Western Digital demonstrated an 8TB 2.5″ hard drive prototype based on conventional magnetic recording methods. It used a 5-platter design to reach 8TB. While not yet a retail product, it shows the feasibility of 8TB 2.5″ HDDs arriving soon. They would require a larger 15mm z-height.
Dual Actuator Hard Drives
Hard drives with dual actuators position read/write heads on both the inner and outer tracks of the platters. This doubles the maximum drive performance compared to conventional technology. Western Digital expects to launch dual actuator drives by 2023. It could enable high capacity 2.5″ drives with improved performance.
Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording (MAMR)
MAMR is a bit-patterned recording technology that uses microwave magnetic fields to allow for higher areal densities than current PMR and SMR approaches. Western Digital and others are developing MAMR tech that can theoretically enable hard drives up to 40TB by 2025. MAMR may eventually reach laptop drives.
HAMR Hard Drives
HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording) is another next-gen recording technology that could increase laptop HDD capacities. By heating media with a laser while writing data, it can stabilize smaller magnetic grain sizes and increase platter areal density. Seagate aims to reach 50TB 3.5″ HAMR drives by 2026.
Challenges to Bigger Laptop Hard Drives
While new technologies promise higher maximum capacities, there are some challenges to overcome:
Physical Size Constraints
The 2.5″ form factor with a 7mm or 9.5mm z-height puts a physical limit on how many platters can fit. A 5-platter design is probably the maximum before requiring larger 15mm models.
Power and Thermal Issues
More platters and heads require more power and generate more heat under load. This makes cooling and power delivery more difficult in compact laptops.
Many laptops still use SATA III interfaces limited to around 600MB/s. Faster NVMe SSDs are required to take full advantage of high capacity HDDs above 4TB.
Cost and Manufacturing Complexity
As areal density increases, manufacturing precision required goes up significantly. This could make future hard drives much more expensive to produce.
In summary, the current largest hard drive commonly available in laptops is 4TB, with 5TB and 6TB options emerging in some premium gaming models. Ongoing innovations in areal density improvements, multi-actuator, MAMR, HAMR, and other technologies could enable capacities up to 8TB or greater in future 2.5″ form factor hard drives. However, physical size constraints, power and thermal issues, interface speed limitations, and cost challenges remain to be overcome before such high capacity hard drives become affordable and widely adopted. For now, 4TB or 5TB remains the practical sweet spot for balancing capacity, performance, size, and cost when selecting a high capacity laptop hard drive.