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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  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    The cost-effective, high capacity NAS drive costs more, per TB, than the (non-cost effective) high capacity.
    Perhaps though, the price of the 16TB Seagate IronWolf is not correct? It seems too cheap. Clicking on the link returns 545usd (not 345)
    Reply
  • kpb321 - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    Yeah I saw that in the recommendations table. The pricing matrix also shows 545 so the recommendation table is clearly a typo and with the correct data actually makes sense. Reply
  • jordanclock - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    The displayed price is for the 12TB model, but the link goes to the 16TB. Weird. Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    Enterprise drives if you like noise. Reply
  • alpha754293 - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    I don't know if enterprise drives are really that much noisier compared to their desktop counterparts, especially for mechanically rotating drives.

    The WD Ultrastar DC drives is 3.6 Bels operational, whilst the Seagate Ironwolf NAS is 3.0 Bels.

    This is a far cry from when drives used to be in the 5-ish Bels range a decade ago.

    At those levels, if you have enough drives, you MIGHT be able to notice it, but that's easily drowned out by noise coming from a fan or something else.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, September 03, 2019 - link

    Agree, but it's not just the overall noise level; the frequency makes a big difference - e.g. hum vs. screeching, quite different at the same noise level. Reply
  • linuxgeex - Wednesday, September 04, 2019 - link

    Western Digital WD6002FRYZ 6TB Enterprise 7200 RPM 8.9/9.1 Watts Random Read/Write; Idle: 7.1 Watts

    Western Digital WD60EFAX Red 6TB NAS 5400 RPM 3.1/4.8 Watts Random Read/Write; Idle: 0.6 Watts.

    A typical home NAS sits idle 99% of the time, so 5 Red drives will typically draw 30W less power than the Enterprise drives. That requires quite a bit more active case cooling.

    Spindle speed is significant - 5 x 5400 drives are a lot quieter than 5 x 7200, and 3.6khz at twice or more the wattage is certainly going to be more noticable than the 2.7kHz at half or less.
    Reply
  • rahvin - Wednesday, September 04, 2019 - link

    5400RPM drives are significantly slower, even in RAID configs. The only place you should be using 5400RPM drives is in backup arrays. Reply
  • Korguz - Thursday, September 05, 2019 - link

    kind of like in a NAS ?? Reply
  • nagi603 - Thursday, September 05, 2019 - link

    They are plenty fast enough for single- or very low-thread media storage. Unless we are talking about about 4K RAW footage, but most people only want what's essentially a NAS for family videos/photos/documents/etc these days. It's a cost-effective solution. Reply

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