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The Best Internal Desktop Hard Drives: A Shopping Guide

Updated on December 10, 2013

How To Purchase a New Internal Desktop Hard Drive

The first thing you want to think about when purchasing an internal hard drive is "How big of a hard drive do I want to get?" As of this writing, when purchasing a new internal hard drive, the best purchase would be one ranging from 1TB-3TB in size. But of course, size isn't everything.

Hard drives have a number of other ratings and components that affect the speed, reliability, and compatibility of the hard drive. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume you have a newer computer, which uses a SATA interface.

Molex (Power)
Molex (Power)
SATA II (Data)
SATA II (Data)
IDE (Out of Date (Data))
IDE (Out of Date (Data))

How To Tell If My Hard Drive Has A SATA II Interface

Open the computer up and look at the hard drive. There will be two cables plugging into it. One will almost certainly look like this:

This is called a "Molex" cable, and it supplies the power to your hard drive.

The other cable, since we're looking for SATA, will look like this:

The SATA cable connects your host-bus adapters on the motherboard to the Hard Drive, enabling communication between the two. This is integral for the operation of the hard drive.

If you do not see a SATA cable, you will most likely see this:

This is an IDE interface, which, unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, will not work. Computers still using IDE are considered to be out of date. The new formats provide greater speed, reliability, and functionality, so continue reading to learn more about your next upgrade!

Do I Have SATA II or SATA III?

The most helpful advice I can give here is this:

If you don't know, then chances are good you've got SATA II (3gb/s). SATA III (6gb/s) is a new version of SATA that is backwards compatible with SATA II (you just won't get the maximum speed out of the hard drive).

My recommendation?

I purchased SATA III (6gb/s) just so if I ever upgrade to a SATA III computer, I'll be ready to take full advantage of the technology. Looking ahead in the technology world is key to keeping up. Plus, since they are backwards compatible, I can still use the hard drive to my computer's full SATA II (3gb/s) potential.

My Computer Has SATA II, What Next?

Once you've discovered that your new SATA II Internal Hard Drive will be compatible with your computer, you must decide on which hard drive to get.

Hard drives have 4 main components to look for when shopping:

  1. Capacity - This is how big the hard drive's storage is.
  2. Cache - The cache stores data in the background so future programs can run faster. The more cache, the faster the hard drive.
  3. RPM - This is how many rotations per minute the hard drive can make. Whenever information is being loaded on or accessed on the hard drive, the platter spins. The faster the platter can safely spin, the faster the hard drive. (This is seen most in data transferring.)
  4. Cost/reliability - I'll be here to help you out on this one.

One more thing to be aware of when shopping for a hard drive: When you see in the title "OEM" or "Bare Drive," the hard drive will be shipped without cables. You will have to have an open Molex cable in your computer and provide the SATA II cable yourself. These are very cheap and come in different colors to suit your aesthetic preferences (if your computer has a window).

If you see "Retail" when purchasing a hard drive, make note that it will be more expensive. It will come with the box and all of the cables necessary to get started. It all depends on your needs.

Ok! So Which Hard Drive Should I Purchase?

The right choice is to always go with the name brand hard drives. Big names like Western Digital, Hitachi, Seagate, and Samsung will always be safe purchases. Keep in mind, not every hard drive is perfect. You may end up with the most reliable hard drive ever made or it may show up on your doorstep defective. Amazon.com's RMA process is the easiest process I've come across, so I would recommend purchasing your internal hard drive through Amazon.

Western Digital Caviar Black

In my personal experience, the Western Digital Caviar Black is the king of hard drives. Across three computers, I'm currently using 8 Western Digital Caviar Blacks, and I've never had a single problem with any of them. They are extremely fast and very reliable, while maintaining an affordable, competitive cost.

The Caviar Black comes standard with a 64 MB cache (the norm is 32), and 7,200 RPMs (this is the norm amongst high quality hard drives).

The Western Digital Caviar Black's size ranges from 1-3GB of Hard Drive space.

Again, if there was ever a hard drive I'd recommend you to purchase, it would be this one. Though if you're looking for something a bit smaller and a little cheaper, I can also recommend...

Seagate Barracuda

Although they aren't the powerhouse that the Western Digital Caviar Black is, the Seagate Barracuda is a great option for an internal desktop hard drive for the every day user.

The specs on the Barracuda range greatly, but are covered in the name of the product. They do deliver the 7,200 RPMs, but the cache is usually lowered to 32 MB. The upside to this is you will get more space for your dollar.

Another difference in the Seagate Barracuda is that the only version currently available in SATA III drops the RPM to 5,900, which will become noticeable when transferring files over a network or watching videos.

In my experience with Seagate, I've also never encountered a faulty hard drive. Again, if you do, Amazon's RMA policy is extremely easy to follow through with, and you'll get a replacement hard drive in no time.

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