What kind of hard drive do I want?

Quick Answers

When choosing a hard drive, consider the following factors:

  • Storage capacity – How much data do you need to store?
  • Form factor – Will it fit in your computer/device?
  • Interface – SATA, SSD, NVME, etc.
  • RPM for HDDs – Faster RPM means better performance
  • Cache size – More cache improves performance
  • Usage – Are you storing documents, media, games, etc?
  • Reliability and warranty
  • Price – HDDs are cheaper per GB than SSDs

The main options are:

  • HDD – Traditional spinning hard drive, cheaper per GB
  • SSD – Solid state drive, no moving parts, better performance
  • NVMe – High performance SSD that uses PCIe interface

For most users, a SATA SSD for your operating system and main programs, plus an HDD for bulk storage, offers the best blend of speed, capacity, and cost. High-end users may want an NVMe SSD for maximum speed.

Choosing the right hard drive for your computer or device can be a daunting task given the wide variety of options available. With traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), solid state drives (SSDs), NVMe, and more to consider, how do you know which is the best choice for your needs? This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to consider and help you select the perfect hard drive for your budget and requirements.


The first decision to make is whether you need a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). Here’s a quick overview:

Hard Disk Drives (HDD)

– HDDs have spinning platters and magnetic heads, making them a mechanical device.

– Much cheaper per GB of storage compared to SSDs. You can get large capacity HDDs (1TB+) for low prices.

– Slower speeds than SSDs due to physical moving parts. Limited by disk rotation speeds.

– More prone to damage and failure due to mechanical parts.

– Ideal for storing large volumes of rarely accessed data. Good for backup drives and archives.

Solid State Drives (SSD)

– Use flash memory with no moving parts. Much faster and durable than HDDs.

– Offer tremendous speed improvements over HDDs. Faster boot, app launch and data transfer speeds.

– Much more expensive per GB than HDDs. Significant cost for large capacity drives.

– Perfect for installing operating systems, games, and frequently used programs.

– Less prone to damage due to shocks/vibrations. No mechanical parts.

Generally, it is recommended to use an SSD for your operating system and frequently accessed programs & games, while using a larger capacity HDD for storing files, media, backups and other data. Power users may use SSDs exclusively for the performance benefits. The speed of SSDs versus the capacity of HDDs is an important trade-off to consider based on your needs and budget.

HDD Specifications

If you do choose a traditional HDD, there are several key specifications to consider:

Storage Capacity

– HDDs range from as little as 40GB up to 12TB+ for desktop models.

– For everyday computing, 250GB to 1TB is typical. For media storage, 3TB+ is recommended.

– Consider how much data you need to store now and in the future when choosing capacity.

RPM Speed

– The rotational speed of HDD platters, measured in rotations per minute (RPM).

– Common speeds are 5400 RPM, 7200 RPM and 10,000 RPM for high-performance drives.

– Faster RPM generally indicates better performance when accessing and transferring data.

Cache Size

– Amount of high-speed DRAM cache on the HDD. Typical range is 8MB to 256MB.

– Larger cache improves read/write speeds and overall drive performance.

Form Factor

– HDDs come in different physical sizes, mounting and connections.

– Common form factors are 3.5″ desktop and 2.5″ notebook drives.

– Ensure compatibility with your computer or device’s drive bays.


– The data connection between HDD and computer. Common modern types are SATA III and SAS.

– SATA III – fast 6Gb/s speeds, compatible with most computers

– SAS – high speed 12Gb/s, used for servers, workstations, high-end PCs

Advanced Features

Some other aspects of HDDs to consider:

– Buffer size – larger DRAM buffer improves performance

– Seek time – time taken to locate stored data

– MTBF rating – mean time between failures, shows reliability

– Dual actuator arms – allows faster read/write speeds

– RAID support – allows combining drives for speed/redundancy

When comparing HDDs, factors like RPM, cache size, and interface are most important for real-world performance differences. Higher capacity drives often have slightly slower RPM speeds, so consider your space needs against performance needs.

HDD Usage Scenarios

Here are common ways HDDs are utilized, along with recommended specifications:

Everyday general use – Used as primary internal storage drive:

– Capacity: 250GB – 2TB

– Cache: 64MB

– RPM: 7200 RPM

– Interface: SATA III

Gaming PCs – Installing games and recording gameplay:

– Capacity: 1TB – 4TB

– Cache: 128MB+

– RPM: 7200 RPM+

– Interface: SATA III/SAS

External storage – Backup drive or additional capacity:

– Capacity: 1TB+

– RPM: 5400 or 7200 RPM

– Interface: USB 3.0/Thunderbolt/eSATA

Network attached storage (NAS) – Central home for accessing files:

– Capacity: 4TB+

– RPM: 5400 or 7200 RPM

– Interface: SATA III or SAS

Media production – Storing and editing video files:

– Capacity: 4TB+

– Cache: 128MB+

– RPM: 7200 RPM+

– Interface: SATA III/SAS/Thunderbolt

SSD Specifications

For solid state drives, consider the following attributes:


– Range from under 100GB to 8TB for high-capacity data center models

– 250-500GB is common for consumer general use

– 1TB+ is ideal for gaming PCs and media storage

Storage Technology

– SLC – highest performance/endurance but very expensive

– MLC – medium performance, more affordable cost

– TLC – slower speeds but low cost per GB

Form Factor

– Same physical size considerations as HDDs

– M.2 and U.2 form factors provide direct PCIe connectivity


– SATA III – 6Gb/s, compatible with HDD infrastructure

– PCIe/NVMe – very high speeds over PCI express bus, cutting edge

– Thunderbolt – External SSDs that interface via Thunderbolt ports


– Processor on the SSD that manages operations.

– Higher quality controllers yield faster speeds and maximum endurance.


– Typically 3-5 years for consumer SSDs. Up to 10 years for data center models.

– Higher endurance ratings equate to longer usable lifespans.

Just like with HDDs, higher performance SSDs carry premium prices over more basic models. You can save money by purchasing a SATA III SSD over a cutting edge PCIe 4.0 model if you don’t need blazing transfer speeds.

SSD Usage Scenarios

Some typical uses cases for solid state drives:

OS Drive – Installing Windows/MacOS for faster booting:

– Capacity: 250-500GB

– Interface: SATA III or PCIe

– Form Factor: 2.5″ or M.2

Gaming – Higher speeds for quick level loading:

– Capacity: 500GB-1TB

– Interface: PCIe/NVMe preferred

– Form Factor: M.2 or U.2 Add-in card

Workstations – Improved workflow for creative pros:

– Capacity: 1TB+

– Interface: PCIe/NVMe or Thunderbolt

– Form Factor: M.2, U.2, or Thunderbolt external

High-end PCs – Eliminate storage bottlenecks:

– Capacity: 1TB+

– Interface: PCIe 4.0/NVMe

– Form Factor: M.2 or U.2

NVMe Drives

NVMe, which stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express, represents the fastest SSD interface available. NVMe drives communicate directly over the PCI Express bus, avoiding the bottleneck of SATA connections. They are the pinnacle of SSD technology. Benefits of NVMe include:

– Extremely fast sequential read/write speeds, up to 3500+ MB/s

– Excellent random access performance for small files

– Low latency and high input/output operations per second (IOPS)

– PCIe connectivity for direct CPU access without SATA intermediary

NVMe drives are recommended for professional workstation use, ultra high-end gaming PCs, and enterprise server applications. The M.2 form factor and U.2 bay option provide convenient connectivity for NVMe storage. To take advantage of these blazing speeds, your system must support PCIe 3.0 or preferably the latest PCIe 4.0 technology.

While the performance of NVMe blows away traditional SATA SSDs, these drives still come at a price premium. 1TB NVMe drives can cost 2-3 times more than basic 1TB SATA SSDs. Still, for certain use cases where top-tier storage speed is critical, NVMe is the clear choice.

External SSD Options

For additional space or backups, external SSDs offer great versatility and performance. Here are some top options:

USB 3.2 SSDs – External SSDs with fast USB 3.2 Gen2 connectivity. Transfer rates up to 10Gbps depending on drive and computer port support. Great for everyday file transfer needs.

USB-C SSDs – Utilize the newer, smaller USB-C connector. Compatible with USB 3.2 Gen2 speeds. Ideal for modern laptops and devices with USB-C ports.

Thunderbolt SSDs – Leverage Thunderbolt 3 or 4 technology for blazing 40Gbps throughput. Ideal for transferring large files like video projects. Require a Thunderbolt port.

Rugged SSDs – Feature shock resistance and weatherproofing for outdoor use. Designed to withstand drops and vibration beyond normal consumer SSDs.

Portable SSDs – Compact and lightweight designs optimized for travel and mobility. Resist shocks and vibration better than portable HDDs.

External SSDs provide great versatility for accessing and transferring data across devices. While not as fast as internal NVMe drives, external SSDs are many times faster than traditional portable hard disk drives over USB.

Final Recommendations

When choosing the right hard drive, consider these final tips:

– Stick to reputable brands like Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, SanDisk and Crucial for proven reliability.

– Check warranty periods and endurance ratings for guaranteed longevity.

– Consider both current and future storage needs when selecting capacity.

– Use benchmarks and reviews to research real-world performance comparisons.

– Weigh the importance of drive speed vs overall value and budget.

– For most users, a SATA SSD + HDD combination offers the ideal blend of speed, capacity, and affordability.

– NVMe drives provide tremendous speed but still command a price premium.

– Consider an external SSD for portability, backups and working across multiple devices.

– Utilize free tools like Windows File Explorer and macOS Finder to check existing drive usage and available space.


Choosing a hard drive ultimately comes down to matching performance and capacity to your computing needs and budget. Lower capacity HDDs and basic SATA SSDs provide an affordable solution for everyday tasks, while higher speed NVMe drives deliver premium speed for more demanding workloads. For most users, a dual SATA SSD and HDD setup offers the ideal combination of speed, capacity and value. Carefully consider your current storage requirements along with expectations for future expansion or upgrades. And take time to research the latest solutions across HDDs, SATA SSDs, NVMe and external drives when planning your next hard drive purchase. With the right knowledge and preparation, you can select the perfect storage upgrade for your tech setup and needs.