Buyer's Guide - Mid-Range, January 2005by Jarred Walton on January 21, 2005 11:09 AM EST
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Hard Drive Recommendations
We have already said a lot on the topic of hard drives in our past Guides, and there really isn't a whole lot to add at this point in time. Higher capacity models are on the way in the not too distant future, but they will carry with them higher price tags. We recommend SATA drives for most people these days; vendors price them similarly to IDE and it is easier to route the cables. If you're into extreme overclocking, however, IDE may be worth considering. Performance isn't all that different - barring the lack of certain high-end options - and many systems have difficulty reaching top overclocked speeds with SATA drives. For nForce3 250 chipsets, we have found that SATA ports 1 and 2 are more likely to have problems than ports 3 and 4. So, unless you want more than two SATA hard drives, you should be fine.
Hard Drive RecommendationSeagate 160GB SATA with NCQ
Price: $105 Shipped
The best value in terms of price per GB of storage currently goes to the 250 GB Hitachi drive [RTPE: HDS722525VLAT80], at just under 55 cents per GB. 250 GB is a lot of storage, however - probably more than most people really need. With the added benefit of Native Command Queuing (NCQ), the Seagate drives continue to impress. The Seagate 160 GB SATA [RTPE: ST3160023AS] offers the best value of the bunch, at roughly 70 cents per GB, but you also get a longer 5 year warranty. Samsung is a slightly better bargain, so if you don't think NCQ is worth paying extra, you can pick up the 160 GB Samsung for $15 less. We give the recommendation to the Seagate drives, although all of the others that we listed are reasonable alternatives.
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Hard Drive AlternativesMaxtor 300GB SATA with NCQ and 16MB cache
Price: $194 Shipped
Western Digital Raptor 74GB SATA with TCQ and 10,000 RPM
Price: $177 Shipped
On the other hand, if improved performance is what you're after, the best two choices are either one of the 16MB cache Maxtor drives or the 74GB Western Digital Raptor [RTPE: WD740GD] with its 10,000 RPM design - the Maxtor also offers NCQ while Raptors "only" offer TCQ, in case you were wondering. For storage space as well as performance, we would go with a Maxtor drive, as they are available in 250 and 300 GB models. If you're going to get a drive that large, we would go with the 300 GB model [RTPE: 6B300S0] for the small price increase - 65 cents per MB is pretty good, especially considering the larger cache. If raw speed is your primary concern, the faster rotational speed of the Raptor still wins out, but it is one of the few non-SCSI drives to actually cost more than $1 per GB. Again, we recommend the larger version for its improved performance and features over the original Raptor, but at $177, it costs $2.40 per GB. These drives are great choices, and only you can decide whether raw speed or increased storage is more important, so we recommend them both.
You could even go with a RAID 0 configuration for a possibly small increase in performance, or if you're concerned about data loss, there's the possibility of RAID 1. For a truly high-end setup, you might even think about getting three or more drives and a separate SATA controller with hardware support for RAID 5. That combines the best of both worlds, but it's more than what anyone actually needs. If you're looking into RAID 5 options, make sure that you pick up a controller card with a hardware XOR engine to calculate the parity checks, or else performance will be greatly reduced. RAID of any form is generally a high-end option, however.