Which storage device has the largest storage capacity?

Data storage has expanded rapidly over the last decade. With the growth of digital content like photos, videos, documents, and more, the need for storage capacity continues to increase. There are several types of data storage devices, each with their own capacities. This article will compare the storage capacities of hard disk drives, solid state drives, flash drives, optical discs, and magnetic tapes to determine which currently offers the largest capacity.

Hard Disk Drives

Hard disk drives (HDDs) store data on quickly rotating platters with magnetic surfaces. They have traditionally offered the largest storage capacities among consumer storage devices. HDD capacities have grown enormously over the decades, from megabytes in the 1980s to multiple terabytes today.

In 1956, IBM introduced the first HDD with a capacity of 5 megabytes. By the early 1980s, capacities reached 10-20MB. In the 1990s and 2000s, we saw rapid growth from gigabytes to terabytes. In 2019, Western Digital unveiled the first 15TB HDD. In 2020, Seagate revealed a 20TB HDD using heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology, the highest capacity HDD to date (TechRadar). The highest capacities now reach around 20TB for consumer HDDs.

HDD capacities continue to increase through advances like HAMR, shingled magnetic recording (SMR), and use of more platters. However, physical limitations in mechanical design may limit future growth compared to solid state drives.

Solid State Drives

Solid state drives (SSDs) use flash memory to store data, rather than mechanical components like hard disk drives. This allows SSDs to be faster, lighter, and more shock resistant than traditional hard drives. SSD capacities have increased dramatically in recent years as flash memory technology has improved.

In 2018, Samsung announced a 30.72TB SSD using QLC NAND flash memory, which currently stands as the largest capacity SSD on the market [1]. However, SSD capacities now commonly range from 120GB to 4TB for consumer models. Enterprise and data center SSDs may have even larger capacities, up to 100TB according to some manufacturers [1].

The maximum size for M.2 form factor SSDs, commonly used in laptops and small devices, is currently around 4TB. But capacities continue to grow rapidly as flash memory density increases [2].

Flash Drives

USB flash drives, also known as thumb drives, are rewritable storage devices that use flash memory and USB connections. They were first introduced in late 2000, with capacities starting at 8MB. Since then, capacities have grown enormously – modern high-capacity models can store up to 2TB.

Most flash drives connect via a standard USB Type-A connector, though smaller USB Type-C and micro USB connectors are also sometimes used. Inside the drive is flash memory, usually MLC NAND chips, though cheaper drives may use lower-capacity SLC NAND. Read and write speeds vary greatly between drives, with faster models using more advanced memory and controllers.

Though most economical for smaller capacities like 64GB and under, flash drives are still widely used for portable file storage and transfer. Their key advantages are small size, high portability, and no need for external power. However, they do not offer the very highest capacities of storage options.




Optical Discs

Optical discs like CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs store data optically using lasers. The most popular optical disc formats include:

  • CDs – Compact Discs can store up to 700MB.
  • DVDs – Digital Versatile Discs or Digital Video Discs can store up to 4.7GB for single layer and 8.5GB for dual layer.
  • Blu-ray Discs – Blu-ray Discs can store up to 25GB for single layer and 50GB for dual layer.[1]

Optical discs have gone through several generations of increased storage capacity, from CDs to DVDs to Blu-ray. However, optical discs have more limited capacities compared to modern hard drives and solid state drives.

Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tape has been used for data storage since the early days of computing in the 1950s. It stores data on reels of plastic film that is coated with magnetic material. Data is written and read by tape drives using magnetic recording heads 1.

Magnetic tape offers very high capacities for storing data. The typical storage capacity of a modern magnetic tape cartridge is around 100 terabytes (TB) 2. In 2020, Fujifilm demonstrated a prototype tape with a record capacity of 580 TB 3. This is equivalent to storing over 75,000 Blu-ray discs on a single tape cartridge.

Some key advantages of magnetic tape are its low cost per terabyte for data archiving applications, long shelf life for storing data offline, and portability of tape cartridges for transporting large datasets.

Comparison Table

Here is a comparison summary table showing the maximum storage capacities of common storage devices:

Storage Device Maximum Capacity
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) 16 TB
Solid State Drive (SSD) 128 TB
USB Flash Drive 2 TB
Optical Disc (Blu-ray) 128 GB
Magnetic Tape 330 TB

As seen in the table, magnetic tape currently has the largest maximum storage capacity at 330 TB, followed by SSDs at 128 TB. Optical discs have the smallest maximum capacities.

Factors Affecting Capacity

The storage capacity of a device is determined by several key factors including the underlying storage technology, physical size, and storage density.

For hard disk drives (HDDs), factors like the number of platters, nature of the magnetic coating, and areal density determine how much data can be stored (Quizlet, n.d.). Higher areal density means more bits can be stored per square inch. For solid state drives (SSDs), capacity depends on the number of NAND flash memory chips and the density of each chip. The physical size of the flash chips limits how much can be packed together.

For removable storage like flash drives and optical discs, physical dimensions are the primary limiting factor. Flash drives can hold anywhere from a few gigabytes to multiple terabytes depending on their physical size and the density of the NAND flash chips inside. The diameter of optical discs determines the available surface area for data storage.

Factors like manufacturing processes and technology improvements drive increases in areal density allowing newer generation drives to store more data in the same physical space. Advances in flash memory and signal processing boost the capacity of SSDs over time.


Current Largest Capacity

As of 2024, the storage device with the largest capacity currently available is the ExaDrive DC100 from Nimbus Data (https://www.makeuseof.com/biggest-storage-media/). This solid state drive offers a massive storage capacity of 100TB in a standard 3.5-inch form factor.

The ExaDrive DC100 uses NAND flash memory technology to provide high performance and power efficiency in a compact design. It can achieve sequential read speeds up to 500MB/s and is optimized for data center applications that require substantial storage scale on a small footprint.

Though designed primarily for enterprise use, the ExaDrive DC100 represents the cutting edge in storage capacity for a single drive. No other commercially available storage device comes close to matching its 100TB maximum capacity.


In summary, of all the storage device types, magnetic tape drives have the largest storage capacity by far. The latest offerings from companies like IBM can store up to 330TB on a single cartridge using sputtered tape. In comparison, the largest consumer hard drives today typically max out at around 12-16TB. While SSD and flash drive capacities continue to grow rapidly, they still lag far behind magnetic tape in maximum possible capacity.

Looking to the future, we can expect the capacities of all storage mediums to continue increasing. However, magnetic tape is likely to maintain a substantial lead for the foreseeable future thanks to the high areal density it can achieve. Hard drives and solid state drives will also push into the 10s and 100s of terabytes per device. Overall, our ability to store data will continue expanding exponentially, enabling new applications and use cases.