In our series of Hard Disk Drive guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended HDDs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.

Best Consumer Hard Drives: Q3 2019

Data storage requirements have kept increasing over the last several years. While SSDs have taken over the role of the primary drive in most computing systems, hard drives continue to be the storage media of choice in areas dealing with large amount of relatively cold data. Hard drives are also suitable for workloads that are largely sequential and not performance sensitive. The $/GB metric for SSDs (particularly with QLC in the picture) is showing a downward trend, but it is still not low enough to match HDDs in that market segment.

From a gaming perspective, install sizes of 100s of GBs are not uncommon for modern games. Long-term backup storage and high-capacity NAS units for consumer use are also ideal use-cases for hard drives. This guide will help readers choose the appropriate hard drive based on their workload, while also keeping the price factor in mind.

Q3 2019 HDD Recommendations
Segment Recommendations
High-Capacity Desktop Option #1 14TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $550
High-Capacity Desktop Option #2 14TB Toshiba X300 $498
Mid-Capacity Desktop 6TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $224
High-Capacity NAS 16TB Seagate IronWolf $345
Cost-Effective High-Capacity NAS 14TB Seagate Exos X14 $358
Mid-Capacity NAS - Option #1 8TB WD Red $240
Mid-Capacity NAS - Option #2 8TB Seagate IronWolf $219

There are three active vendors in the consumer hard drive space - Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital. While Seagate offers hard drives targeting consumer workloads at their leading capacity points, Western Digital and Toshiba reserve the leading edge for enterprise and datacenter drives. The previous version of our purchase guide from November 2018 only dealt with Seagate and WD drives. Since then, we have seen a number of announcements in the consumer space from both Seagate and Toshiba. These have given us a few additional HDD models to consider in our Q3 2019 guide.

Consumers looking to purchase hard-drives need to have a rough idea of the use-cases they are going to subject the drives to. Based on that, a specific set of metrics needs to be considered. We first take a look at the different metrics that matter, and how various hard drives stack up against each other. Since many hard drive families from different vendors can satisfy the requirements, it may all come down to the pricing. We will present a pricing matrix for various hard drive families against the available capacities.

The following hard drive families will be considered in our guide today. Note that this list does not include surveillance-focused drives such as the WD Purple or Seagate SkyHawk. We will also consider some of the enterprise / datacenter SATA drives that are available for purchase from e-tailers.

  1. Seagate BarraCuda Pro
  2. Seagate IronWolf NAS
  3. Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS
  4. Seagate Exos Enterprise
  5. Toshiba N300
  6. Toshiba X300
  7. Western Digital Ultrastar DC
  8. Western Digital Red
  9. Western Digital Red Pro

A few notes are in order - the WD Ultrastar DC lineup is not widely available in the North American retail market. Toshiba's MN07 and MG07 series are the 9-disk models featuring industry-leading 14TB PMR capacity models. However, they are again enterprise-focused, and the retail market has to make do with the N300 and X300 drives for NAS and desktop systems. That said, the specifications are very similar, as we noted in the launch article.

Metrics that Matter

One of the easiest ways to narrow down the search for a suitable hard drive is to look at the target market of each family. The table below lists the suggested target market for each hard drive family we are considering today.

Hard Drive Families - Target Markets
Drive Family Target Markets
Seagate BarraCuda Pro Desktops and All-in-Ones
Home Servers
Creative Professionals Workstations
Entry-Level Direct-Attached-Storage (DAS) Units
Seagate IronWolf NAS NAS Units up to 8 bays
(Home, SOHO, and Small Business)
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS NAS Units up to 24 bays
(Creative Pros, SOHO, and Small to Medium Enterprises)
Seagate Exos Enterprise Datacenter and Bulk Cloud Storage
Toshiba N300 NAS Units up to 8 bays
Toshiba X300 Professional Desktops, Home Media or Gaming PCs
WD Ultrastar DC Datacenter and Bulk Cloud Storage
WD Red NAS Units up to 8 bays
WD Red Pro NAS Units up to 24 bays

After filtering out models that don't apply to one's use-case (as an example, for usage in a 4-bay NAS enclosure, one could rule out the Tosiba X300 straight away), it is now time to look at some of the metrics that bring out a drive's characteristics.

Hard Drive Families - Metrics of Interest
Drive Family Rated Workload (TB/yr) Rated Load / Unload Cycles Unrecoverable Read Errors MTBF (Hours) Warranty (Years)
Seagate BarraCuda Pro 300 300K 1 in 10E15 1.0M 5
Seagate IronWolf NAS 180 600K 1 in 10E15 1.0M 3
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS 300 600K 1 in 10E15 1.2M 5
Seagate Exos Enterprise 550 600K 1 in 10E15 2.5M 5
Toshiba N300 180 300K 1 in 10E14 1.0M 3
Toshiba X300 N/A (72?) 300K 1 in 10E14 0.6M 2
WD Ultrastar DC 550 600K 1 in 10E15 2.5M 5
WD Red 180 600K 1 in 10E14 1.0M 3
WD Red Pro 300 600K 1 in 10E14 1.0M 5

Based on these metrics, it is clear that the enterprise drives (Seagate Exos Enterprise and WD Ultrastar DC) are going to be more reliable in the long run over a big sample set. However, most consumer use-cases do not need the 550 TB/yr workload rating. 180 - 300 TB/yr workload rating is acceptable for most users when the drives are going to be used as part of RAID arrays.

The BarraCuda Pro strikes a nice balance across many metrics, but it is rated only for 300K load / unload cycles. It also doesn't have the RV sensors present in the rest of the drives (other than the Toshiba X300).

In considering the non-enterprise drives, we note that the 'Unrecoverable Read Errors' metric is 10x worse for the WD and Toshiba drives compared to the Seagate ones. The MTTF metric for the IronWolf Pro is slightly better than the other drives (at 1.2M vs. 1M hours).

One of the aspects not mentioned in the above table is that the WD Red drives are in the 5400 RPM class, while the rest are all 7200 RPM. From a raw performance perspective at equivalent capacity points, the WD Red might not win on benchmarks, but, it is most likely to be the most power efficient of the lot.

Pricing Matrix and Concluding Remarks

The matrix below shows the current pricing for each available capacity point in all the considered hard drive families.

HDD Pricing Matrix (as of August 29, 2019)
Drive Family 16TB 14TB 12TB 10TB 8TB 6TB 4TB
Seagate BarraCuda Pro - $550 $430 $330 $273 $224 $168
Seagate IronWolf NAS $545 $500 $340 $279 $219 $165 $100
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS $600 $568 $392 $312 $255 $200 $140
Seagate Exos Enterprise $605 $358 $331 $258 $199 $189 $166
Toshiba N300 - $488 $386 $273 $220 $168 $115
Toshiba X300 - $498 $335 $305 $197 $172 $110
WD Ultrastar DC - $430 $339 $380 $222 $164 $134
WD Red - - $350 $290 $240 $150 $100
WD Red Pro - - $459 $340 $278 $195 $158

The desktop storage market is a straight shoot-out between the Seagate BarraCuda Pro and the Toshiba X300. Last year, the Toshiba didn't have any competing models at the 14TB and 12TB capacity points. However, Toshiba is competing across the full lineup. It is also consistently beating the Seagate's pricing at every capacity point. That said, the higher capacity versions of the Toshiba use 9 platters, and consume more power compared to the corresponding BarraCuda Pro. The Seagate pricing also includes data recovery service during the warranty period. For the extra cost, we get a much higher workload rating, better reliability, and three extra years of warranty. So, this is a case where the benefits outweigh the cost, and our recommendation goes to the costlier of the two drives - the Seagate BarraCuda Pro, though the X300 might also be considered if one has hard budget limitations.

Prior to commenting on the other possible use-cases, one thing is clear from the above pricing matrix - if you absolutely require 16TB per disk, the Seagate drives are your only choice for purchase in the retail market.

On the SOHO / SMB NAS front, the Seagate Exos series, despite its enterprise background, continues to make a strong case across multiple capacity points. The 16TB version is actually available for much lower (around $498) than the $605 direct from Amazon quoted above. The only places where the WD Red could edge out as a better choice are scenarios where the power consumption needs to be kept low. The 6TB WD Red is also the lowest-priced 6TB currently in the table. The IronWolf NAS models deliver slightly better performance compared to the WD Red due to the 7200RPM nature, but, have correspondingly higher power consumption numbers. On the SMB / SME NAS front, the IronWolf Pro pretty much edges out the WD Red Pro in pricing across the board (except for the 6TB version). This is despite the bundled data recovery service in the IronWolf Pro pricing.

Based on the above analysis, the recommendations for the NAS drives are clear - WD Red when performance is not as important as overall power consumption, and the Seagate Exos Enterprise drives otherwise. This is assuming that the user has adopted the 3-2-1 backup rule and doesn't foresee the need for a data recovery service (DRS). The IronWolf Pro NAS and the BarraCuda Pro both bundle the DRS. This needs to be taken into account while considering the pricing difference against other drives in the same capacity class.

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  • wumpus - Sunday, September 08, 2019 - link

    They are 75% the speed of 7200rpm at worst, and often listed as being able to maintain the same speed to the buffers (of course, that really only helps during backups).

    The real question is why you are using spinning disks anyway. Unless you have such a massive array that you can't afford SSD, if you care about speed you should be running SSD anyway. The small sliver that needs 7200rpm is pretty small, and probably dying out in the "consumer" sector anyway.
    Reply
  • Korguz - Sunday, September 29, 2019 - link

    wumpus " The real question is why you are using spinning disks anyway" um maybe because size ? a 4 tb drive can be picked up for about $200, less if you can catch a sale , 4 tb ssd, 600+ for strictly storage, it would cost less.. for performance and speed.. then an ssd would be better Reply
  • linuxgeex - Wednesday, September 04, 2019 - link

    Yup, you trade noise and durability for performance. Enterprise drives typically last half as long as desktop drives and have about 36% higher throughput and 25% lower seek time. Those performance specs come almost exclusively from higher spindle speeds, which translate into more heat, noise, and vibration. As a result they need more cooling = even more noise, and more mechanical isolation = more expensive mounting hardware. So they're really not for desktop users. Home users should get 5400RPM SMR drives for long-term media storage, and use SSDs for the storage where speed makes a difference... their OS and applications. Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, September 04, 2019 - link

    That always struck me as odd back in the days of the Raptor. A 36GB drive, priced 2x GB/$, insanely noisy seeks, and was guaranteed to fail...to get a theoretical 33% better access time and sequential transfers.

    No wonder they failed.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, September 04, 2019 - link

    Yeah, but the size of my e-p33n back when I ran 2x36GB Raptor RAID-0 was worth the risk. LOL Reply
  • Korguz - Sunday, September 29, 2019 - link

    no.. they failed.. cause of the SSD :-) i have used most of them, 36, 74, 150, 300 and 600 gig drives, and they were a little quicker then the 5400/7200 drives for loading at the time, and as for noise, i didnt notice it that much, the fans i had in my comps were louder. Reply
  • kwinz - Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - link

    BS! Enterprise helium filled drives are less noisy than the cheap desktop non-helium ones right now. Reply
  • alpha754293 - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    Pity that the metric for reliability is MTBF rather than actual drive/warranty failure rates from place like backblaze.com for example. Reply
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    Take what you got, because unless you have millions of dollars to buy ~10K drives (ie: a large enough sample size) of one specific make/model/capacity, and then another 5 years to test failure rates for those 10k drives, before you know, this specific HDD model has already 5 years obsolete, and THEN you'd know how reliable it was over 5 years, only after you spent everything on trying to test one specific drive make/model/capacity. And then you have to do the same thing every every other combination of make/model/capacity.

    Or you could just chill out on "real world" reliability metrics, take reliability in your own hands by setting up your own redundant storage array and automated backup plan, and then the only reason why you would ever lose data would be because of your own laziness to replace drives as they were going bad.
    Reply
  • saratoga4 - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    >Take what you got, because unless you have millions of dollars to buy ~10K drives (ie: a large enough sample size)

    That would be the backblaze data. I usually buy whatever they say has the lowest annual failure rate, even if it means I pay a little more per GB.
    Reply

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