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: Holiday 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. The consumer HDD market has seen two new introductions since the release of our last HDD guide - the 14TB WD Red and WD Red Pro. We are bringing them into the list of considered drives for this guide.


14TB Western Digital Red and Red Pro Hard Drives Launched on October 24, 2019

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. The challenge in picking any hard drive, of course, is balancing workload needs with total drive costs. Most consumers inn a non-business settings also require low-power and low-noise, yet, high capacity drives. So, starting with the Holiday 2019 guide, we are adding an explicit suggested option for that scenario also.

Holiday 2019 HDD Recommendations
Drive Segment Recommendations
High-Capacity Desktop 14TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $540
14TB Toshiba X300 $489
Mid-Capacity Desktop 6TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $220
High-Capacity NAS 16TB Seagate Exos X16 $417
Cost-Effective High-Capacity NAS 14TB Seagate Exos X16 $339
Mid-Capacity NAS 8TB WD Red $224
8TB Seagate IronWolf $209
Power-Efficient, Low-Noise, High-Capacity 14 TB WD Red $500

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.

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.

For our guide, we're narrowing down the vast field of hard drives to the following models/families. In particular, we are excluding surveillance-focused drives such as the WD Purple or Seagate SkyHawk, since these drives are based on the same technology, but often carry a price premium. Meanwhile, we're also making sure to include some of the enterprise / datacenter SATA drives that are available for purchase from e-tailers, as these sometimes offer some great deals in terms of capacity-per-dollar.

  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-platter models featuring an industry-leading 14TB PMR capacity. 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 your use-case (as an example, for usage in a 4-bay NAS enclosure, one could rule out the Tosiba X300 straight away), we can then take a look at how the specifications of various drive families compare.

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 rated to be more reliable in the long run over a big sample set. However, most consumer use-cases do not need a 550 TB/yr workload rating. 180 - 300 TB/yr workload rating is plenty reasonable 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 likely to be the most power efficient and have the best noise profile 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 November 18, 2019)
Cheapest Drives in Bold, AT-recommended Drives In Green
Drive Family 16TB 14TB 12TB 10TB 8TB 6TB 4TB
Seagate BarraCuda Pro - $540 $430 $337 $275 $220 $168
Seagate IronWolf NAS $480 (Newegg)
Amazon
$470 $320 $263 $209 $160 $100
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS $534 (CDW)
Amazon
$489 $386 (Newegg) $300 $270 $180 $140 (Newegg)
Seagate Exos Enterprise $417 $339 $350 $265 $200 $175 $166
Toshiba N300 - $486 $358 $282 $204 $159 $115
Toshiba X300 - $489 $382 $299 $196 $157 $110
WD Ultrastar DC - $370 $323 $297 $203 $164 $167
WD Red - $500 $354 $300 $215 (Newegg) $153 $105
WD Red Pro - $570 $356 $326 $300 $192 $130

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 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 newly launched 14TB 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 low noise profile, 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.

 
 

Finally, a note on shucking – buying a relatively cheap external hard disk (such as the 12TB Western Digital Easystore with a re-labeled WD Red drive inside for $248), removing the internal drive, and using it in a NAS or as an internal desktop drive in the place of a more costly drive ($354). While this is easy enough to do, the user experience might not be optimal - obtaining warranty services is pretty much ruled out, the default TLER settings might need alteration (which is not always possible with commercial off-the-shelf NAS units) and so on. We believe this is not worth the trouble for most readers unless the money spent is to be treated as sunk cost, and the drive is going to be used in non-critical scenarios.

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  • heffeque - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    Prices for small to medium sized drives has barely gone down (a 3 TB drive has the same price tag as years ago), and big drives haven't gone down on price enough.
    At this rate, I'm gonna end up buying a NAS to fill it up just with cheap SSD drives, witch are less and less expensive every year, and are incredibly faster than those clunky HDD drives.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    How big is the sound difference between the WD Red and Seagate Exos? The price gap between the 12tb red and 14tb exos is minimal; and both are big enough I probably won't fill a RAID1 up before deciding I want newer drives to store my backups on again. Reply
  • npz - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    I have the 12TB Exos and 6tb WD Reds. Even though the Red is quieter, but is also slower at 5400 rpm vs 7200 rpm for Seagate. The Exos is surprisingly quiet and definitely quiet inside a chassis when idle. Seeks are louder but not as loud as I was expecting. I was expecting HGST Ultrastar/Desktar levels loudness, but the Exos is definitely quieter than that. Reply
  • yetanotherhuman - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    Surprised to see bare drives being recommended as good value, shucking externals is the best way to get cheap drives. Reply
  • mkaibear - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    Assuming you buy the correct externals (some don't work outside their box), and assuming the manufacturer doesn't change the drive inside unexpectedly, and assuming that you're happy without a warranty (or with trying to reassemble an external drive and then lying to the manufacturer to get warranty coverage)...

    ...or just pay a bit extra and get a drive which will definitely work and which will keep its warranty, hmm...
    Reply
  • chavv - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    what about RL failure stats?
    https://www.backblaze.com/blog/backblaze-hard-driv...
    Seagate stats look ... depressing.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    Please stop trolling us with reliable facts and useful statistical data that would be helpful in making effective decisions. If you want to do that sort of thing at least have the decency to bracket it with an enraged rant about some sort of grand conspiracy about the storage industry in general. Reply
  • pauldoo - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    What happened to SMR (shingled magnetic recording) drives? As far as I can see none of the "high capacity" drives listed here use SMR. Is SMR no longer popular for some reason?

    I have some older Seagate Archive 8TB drives which used SMR, and they're pretty decent for archive and backup usecase in a NAS.
    Reply
  • squarecrumpets - Friday, November 22, 2019 - link

    HGST's Hs14 is an SMR drive. Reply
  • pauldoo - Monday, November 25, 2019 - link

    Okay, but still none of the drives in this review appear to be SMR. I'm curious why they're not popular for cheap high-capacity low performance usecase. Reply

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