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I'm having trouble finding a new (bigger) hard drive for my laptop.

I came across some criteria that I never thought about before, while I was checking a price comparison site. Of course, that made me more confused.

First of all, I will probably go with something above 250 GB, and at least 16 MB cache.

Now the confusing part: Most new drives are 7200 RPM, as opposed to good old 5400 RPM. 7200 RPM used to mean extra heat, but suddenly it's almost impossible to find a 5400 RPM in 2.5". What did I miss?

Second question: Internal data transfer rate. My old drive has a rate of around 60 MB, but new drives have values like 100 MB or more (e.g. 150 MB). How important is this "internal data transfer rate"?

EDIT: Laptop can handle SATA 3 GB/s. Sorry for not writing this from the beginning.

EDIT #2: A big thanks to those who suggested review sites diskcompare.com and newegg.com. The Swedish review and price comparison site (prisjakt.se) I was using is not even close when it comes to the quality of information delivered at those sites.

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If you really want to cut back on heat and power usage, SSDs might be another option (while dramatically increasing speed). Unfortunately, it would be very expensive to purchase one at the size you are looking for. –  Emory Bell Jun 14 '10 at 17:12
    
Yes, with SSDs I wouldn't have to think about heat or power demands, but they are way too expensive right now. –  TFM Jun 14 '10 at 17:31
    
The reason for the latest "-1"? –  TFM Nov 22 '12 at 4:35

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

It all comes down to how much you want to spend and what's more important to you.

Reasons you'd want a faster HDD:

  • to decrease the time that it takes for applications to load
  • to increase performance for hard-drive intensive applications (some games)
  • to increase snappiness (response time) of the operating system

If that's what you're looking for then a SSD would be the best choice. A year or two ago I wouldn't suggest buying a SSD at all because the failure rate of SSDs was pretty high; but the technology has stabilised over the past year.

If you bought a SSD I'd suggest you take the old HDD out and use it as an external hard drive to store personal files or media content. Generally, you won't be using that stuff as often and the convenience of being able to take them with you without hauling your computer around is worth it.

Use the SSD mainly for the operating system and applications. Having all of your personal files or media content on your computer's hard drive leave them at risk of corruption or loss if your system becomes infected or the drive goes bad. Plus, as the capacity increases the price goes way up.

A 40GB will run about $120 and, as long as you don't need to store a ton of files on it that's pretty reasonable.

Reasons you'd want more capacity in a HDD:

  • you have a lot of personal files
  • you have a lot of media files
  • you tend to store a lot of data
  • your data storage needs are growing

If this is the case, just buy a large capacity external HDD.

Prices range from $70 for a 320GB to $150-$170 for a 1TB

Personally, I mostly run Linux Mint so I don't need an anti-virus application (which slow any decent PC to a crawl) and I don't do a lot of performance-intensive tasks so I went for capacity and recently bought a 1TB external. I love it. It's tiny, portable, and has a lot more space than I need (so I won't have to worry about replacing it any time soon).

When it comes to 7200 RPM HDDs, they had their niche a few years ago before SSDs solidified. Nowadays, you're just buying an overpriced HDD that runs hotter than normal and will wear out faster. If you're that concerned about performance just buy a SSD.

One last thing. Before you make your final decision about buying a specific drive look and see what the reviews on Newegg say about it. For hardware reviews, Newegg has the best reviews you'll find anywhere coming from highly-skilled and highly-technical people. Even if you don't buy from there, check out what people are saying about the particular model on their site and I guarantee, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

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Wow, thanks for your comprehensive answer! I especially appreciated your comments on the 7200 RPM HDDs. –  TFM Jun 15 '10 at 13:06
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@TFM No prob. I usually research (sometimes obsessively) about hardware before I make a purchase. I think it took me 6 weeks to research my first computer build. It's nice to be able to share my findings. –  Evan Plaice Jun 15 '10 at 20:50

Actually I personally have not noticed that 5400 RPM drives are any less available now. Here is a link to a comparison at diskcompare.com. It seems to be mostly a marketing site so don't trust it blindly. But if you approach it just as a site with possibly useful info then I have found it helpful.

A major factor behind the change in hard drives over the last few years has been increased platter bit density. The increased bit density is also why even the 5400 RPM drives are faster now. Yes, 7200 RPM should give you better performance. But the difference between 5400 & 7200 for a casual user is often not as pronounced as it was just a few years ago.

You probably also will not notice the difference between 8MB & 16MB of cache either. (The one possibly glaring exception to cache not being that important would the recently announced Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid. This hybrid drive uses flash memory and (more) intelligent cache algorithms to apparently significantly improve performance).

So think carefully before paying the premium for a 7200 RPM drive. I've been using a 500GB Hitachi 5K500.B and been happy with it for the year I've had it. But as far as "Will it work?" goes, yes it should. I recommend that you look closely to make sure you are buying a "recent" drive which will have both high bit density platters and low(er) power requirements. The retailers usually don't make it obvious when they are trying to "unload" older models of a drive.

Unless money is extremely tight I would urge looking for and buying in/around the market's current "sweet spot" for capacity. You can get a feel for this by using either the $/GB or GB/$ ratios. The diskcompare site I pointed towards sorts by GB/$ which I find useful.

IMO a large portion of the cost of a hard drive is fixed: the cost of the platters, casing, integrated electronics. So in some sense you usually get the worst deal with lower capacity drives because the price can't go low enough to match the GB/$ ratio's you'll see for the larger drives.

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Thanks about yout tip on $/GB ratios, that was really useful! –  TFM Jun 15 '10 at 13:10

It's not impossible to find a 5400 RPM laptop hard drive, but most newer models are 7200RPM. If you look a little harder, you should be able to find 5400s.

Internal transfer rate is important, because it defines the internal connection type. If you had a 66/100MB/s connection before, you had a PATA hard drive. 150MB/s is SATA I, 300MB/s is SATA II, 600MB/s is SATA III. Generally speaking - the SATAs are all backwards compatible with each other, but if your laptop takes a PATA hard drive, you cannot use a SATA hard drive. I would consult the spec sheet from your notebook, which is probably somewhere on the manufacturer website, for this info.

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I updated my question with the drive type my laptop can use. –  TFM Jun 14 '10 at 11:22
    
@TFM - What other info are you looking for? –  MDMarra Jun 14 '10 at 11:28
    
What I need to know is if 7200 RPM drives are OK. A couple of years ago, every review about 2,5" 7200 drives came with a big warning about increased heat and power usage, but now they are everywhere. To give a hint, the price comparison site I checked had forty-seven (47) 7200 RPM 320GB (and above) drives, but only three (3) 5400 drives... –  TFM Jun 14 '10 at 14:39
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@TFM - 7200RPM hard drives are fine, there is increased heat and power usage, but nothing that will harm a notebook. The big reason to stay away from them is the battery life, but the impact is minimal. Newegg lists 70 5400RPM hard drives in stock. I think you might need to look a little farther than the site you checked. –  MDMarra Jun 14 '10 at 15:06

After having gone through ten (10) Hitachi 320GB 2.5" drives in about a year, reliability was most important to me.

Unfortunately, if you ask five people which drive manufacturer is most reliable, you'll get five different answers.

I went with Seagate at the time because they've been working well for me for the past 5-10 years. Western Digital seems pretty decent, too, especially if you can get a "Green" version of the drives you're looking at... WD's "Green" drives produce less heat, draw less power, etc.

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This doesn't really answer either question though. –  MDMarra Jun 14 '10 at 14:35

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