Buying Guide: Storage For Your New PC

12/14/2012 2:54:48 PM

Find the right storage using our helpful guide!

When building a PC, it’s important to find the right storage method for your needs. It isn’t just a question of cost, but of speed, capacity, security, portability and maybe even more specific requirements like size and power. In this guide, we’ll help you find out which storage method is right for you and recommend some products for buyers with any size budgets!

Internal HDDs

The internal hard drive has been the main data storage component in home computers for as long as many of us can remember. It’s not difficult to see where such endurance comes from. Mechanical hard drives are cheap, reasonably fast, have substantially higher capacities than most storage methods, and can remain functional for years without any significant errors.

However, they’re not quite the undisputed kings of the storage industry any more. While there’s no question that for most buyers, an internal hard drive will be the first and best choice, the technology is beginning to show its age. Internal hard drives are slower than SSDs and memory sticks, less portable than USB storage methods, and they’re noisy and cumbersome to install.

Despite those drawbacks, internal hard drives remain the storage of choice for most users, due to their generally high performance and comparatively low price, not to mention familiarity. Whatever you want to use your PC for, you can be certain that an internal hard drive will do any job you throw at it to reasonably high standards, and that type of breadth is hard to beat.

Good for:

Budget and general use PCs.

Bad for:

Performance/gaming PCs.

Performance Choice: 1TB Western Digital VelociRaptor SATA 6Gbps 10,000rpm 64MB cache

1TB Western Digital VelociRaptor SATA 6Gbps 10,000rpm 64MB cache

You might think it’s odd that the high-end choice has the same capacity as the budget version, but it’s not the size of the drive that’s worth paying attention to; it’s the speed of it. Western Digital is Seagate’s only realistic competition in the fight to be the best HDD manufacturer, and the VelociRaptor’s 10,000rpm platter speed shows why. If you want to see extra performance from a mechanical hard drive, you need a higher RPM, and the specs on this drive mean it’s better than most.

External HDDs

External hard drives may just be a standard mechanical HDD in a box, but they also have their own benefits. Not only do they have all of the capacity and price benefits of normal hard drives, they’re also vastly easier to transport around. If you have a laptop that you want to keep free of clutter, or if you want to make backups of large files, which can be stored away from the originals, an external hard drive is likely to be your best bet.

That said, there are downsides to using an external hard drive rather than an internal one. Transfer speeds to external hard drives are generally worse than internal ones - not so much for USB 3.0 devices, but if there’s a USB 2.0 port at either end, it’ll be a bottleneck. They’ll likely require a separate power source, which means an extra plug taken up and an extra cable to carry around. And their portable nature means they’re a little more prone to damage and data loss than internal drives, purely because they spend more time being moved around and powered up and down.

Best for

Portable storage and backups.

Bad for

Performance/gaming PCs.

Performance Choice: 2TB Seagate Expansion hard drive

2TB Seagate Expansion

2TB of storage space make this capable of storing more than enough files to keep you going in the event of a disaster, but it’s the speed of the unit that really impresses. As an external hard drive with a USB 3.0 connection, it’s up to ten times faster than its USB 2.0 cousins. It’s not much to look at, but performance builders will find it tough to ignore the high transfer rates and the fact that it has Seagate’s reputation all over it.


Solid-state drives are becoming more and more popular at the same time as becoming less and less expensive. Now more than ever they’re an attractive accessory for any computer owner, and the storage medium of choice for the performance enthusiast. Compared to standard hard drives, they have faster access times, make much less noise, run at lower temperatures and have lower power requirements than mechanical hard disks. Enough to make anyone with an eye on system quality want one.

The drawbacks are potentially large, however. If you’re on a budget, their high cost means you could end up with a unit that is prohibitively small. The largest SSDs, costing hundreds of pounds, are roughly the same capacity as the smallest mechanical HDDs.

While their low disk access times mean they make good primary drives and can improve system performance in a variety of areas, and their low power, low noise, low temperature attributes makes them excellent for portable computing, there’s no getting away from the fact that SSDs are a staggeringly poor choice if you need lots of storage.

Good for

High-end gaming machines, portable/low-power PCs.

Bad for

File servers and archival purposes.

Performance Choice: 240GB OCZ Vertex 3

240GB OCZ Vertex 3

The OCZ Vertex 3 builds on OCZ’s reputation, and while you can get higher capacity drives, 240GB should mean that won’t have to worry about running out of space any time soon. Even better, the OCZ Vertex 3 is one of the fastest solid-state drives available, capable of reaching almost the top speeds afforded by SATA 6Gbps in sequential reading tests. It won’t be especially noticeable compared to other SSDs (certainly not as noticeable as the difference between a traditional hard disk and any solid-state drive), but the superior speed is a good reason to choose the Vertex 3 over any other if you’re looking for performance.

Hybrid HDD/SSDs

Hybrid drives are internal hard disks that have a small solid-state component grafted onto them. The aim of manufacturers offering such devices is to combine the high storage capacity and low costs of mechanical hard drives with the fast access speeds of solid-state storage. It’s fair to say that the experiment has produced mixed results.

On one hand, hybrid drives can be quicker than HDDs without the high price of SSDs, and their ability to cache files to the SSD portion of the storage means the most popular applications and operating system files can be accessed at high speeds without the attendant cost of storing, for example, music and video files on SSD.

On the other hand, hybrid drives are slower (on average) than pure SSDs, and the limited capacity of the SSD portion can often frustrate users and require more micro-management than is strictly necessary. There’s no question that they’re faster than standard mechanical hard drives, cheaper than SSDs and have the ability to store more than an SSD, but the hybridization augments the failings of both technologies as much as the successes.

Good for

Getting SSD-range access speeds on a budget.

Bad for

Novices who might struggle to manage the hybrid approach.

Performance Choice: Seagate Momentus XT 500GB HDD

Seagate Momentus XT 500GB

Although hybrid drives sometimes struggle to live up to expectations, Seagate’s Momentus XT drives are the best available. Speeds are faster than a normal hard drive but cheaper than an equivalent SSD, while the automatic caching ensures optimal performance. Priced under $160, the 4GB of on-board SSD means the drive can be up to 80% faster than a purely mechanical drive. However you look at it, that’s worth paying for

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