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: Q1 2020

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 not seen any new introductions since the release of our last HDD guide in which we brought the 14TB WD Red and WD Red Pro into the list of considered drives.


14TB Western Digital Red and Red Pro Hard Drives - Recently Launched Consumer Hard Drives

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. Our guide has an explicit suggested option for that scenario also.

Q1 2020 HDD Recommendations
Drive Segment Recommendations
High-Capacity Desktop 14TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $546
14TB Toshiba X300 $530
Mid-Capacity Desktop 6TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $225
High-Capacity NAS 16TB Seagate Exos X16 $406
Cost-Effective High-Capacity NAS 14TB Seagate Exos X16 $355
Mid-Capacity NAS 8TB WD Red $211
8TB Seagate IronWolf $222
Power-Efficient, Low-Noise, High-Capacity 14 TB WD Red $470

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 March 20, 2020)
Cheapest Drives in Bold, AT-recommended Drives In Green
Drive Family 16TB 14TB 12TB 10TB 8TB 6TB 4TB
Seagate BarraCuda Pro - $546 $492 $353 $300 $225 $175
Seagate IronWolf NAS $508 (Newegg)
Amazon
$460 $336 $329 $222 $165 $100
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS $520 (CDW)
Amazon
$489 $398 (Newegg) $381 $270 $245 $174 (Newegg)
Seagate Exos Enterprise $406 $354 $325 $360 $189 $184 $170
Toshiba N300 - $460 $340 $283 $200 $162 $115
Toshiba X300 - $530 $416 $271 $195 $155 $105
WD Ultrastar DC - $400 $321 $283 $198 $159 $132
WD Red - $470 $352 $265 $212 (Newegg) $145* $100*
WD Red Pro - $544 $394 $316 $280 $201 $150
*: We currently do not recommend the 4TB and 6TB WD Reds because the channel is being filled with SMR drives (EFAX) instead of CMR (EFRX). SMR drives for NAS workloads (even consumer workloads) is not proven yet, and we suggest users wait for vendors to get the technology right for the use-case.

The desktop storage market is a straight shoot-out between the Seagate BarraCuda Pro and the Toshiba X300 with both vendors competing across the full lineup. Toshiba consistently beats 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. This may change once the Western Digital Ultrastar DC550 series starts making its way into consumer outlets.

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 (Update: 04/14 - We currently do not recommend the 4TB and 6TB WD Reds because the channel is being filled with SMR drives (EFAX) instead of CMR (EFRX). SMR drives for NAS workloads (even consumer workloads) is not proven yet, and we suggest users wait for vendors to get the technology right for the use-case). 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 WD Red Pro has started reaching better price points compared to previous quarters. While the 14TB and 8TB versions are costlier than the IronWolf Pro, the WD Red Pro edges out the Seagate offering by wide margins at other capacity points. However, the bundled data recovery service must be considered 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 $225), removing the internal drive, and using it in a NAS or as an internal desktop drive in the place of a more costly drive ($352). 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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  • boozed - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    You what? A bunch of expensive professional and enterprise grade drives that would rarely if ever be seen in an OEM PC. "Consumer" indeed. Reply
  • chrysrobyn - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    Anandtech has no place talking about OEM PCs. This is for enthusiasts.

    Anandtech has been teaching us about SSDs and how they're vital for end users machines for OS use and anything that needs performance for years. If you can afford them, you use them. For the 500 gig range and below, which is most end users, that's enough. If you can't afford that, there are some really cheap <100 gig drives that will almost certainly fit your need. If you can't afford one, you're probably buying the cheapest OEM drive that comes with what's on sale at Best Buy or Walmart. Neither quality nor performance are parts of the equation.

    Anandtech has all but stopped addressing the still-changing spinning market for several years. An update was clearly needed. Here they are, talking about where spinners are still strongest -- longer term mass storage. Exchange a little latency for a bigger drive and a reduced cost per gigabyte. An enthusiast will use these as data drives or NAS drives, certainly not for a main storage drive. My ZFS array is going to see a failure one of these days and it's good to know I can refer to this article to see what to swap in for the failed drive. Probably a 4TB Red.

    Indeed, a "consumer update". Thanks, AnandTech! Thanks, Ganesh!
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    AT regularly reviews OEM built consumer electronics that fall outside of the enthusiast domain. I think the problem here is just that this article is poorly identified as focusing on consumer grade hard drives when it clearly does not address that product category. Reply
  • javorenator - Friday, April 24, 2020 - link

    If you need just a consumer home drive you always get an SSD - chep enougth and a lot faster. If you need terabytes, btter to bet no reliabilty and enterprise grade drives. Reply
  • Craig234 - Tuesday, June 2, 2020 - link

    "Consumer" and "terabytes" are not exclusive. I filled a 5TB gaming drive and want a 10TB+ to replace it, and it's consumer. Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    Enthusiasts are not buying spinning disks anymore. I'm not an enthusiast, and I don't have anymore SATA devices. Reply
  • jragonsoul - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    I'm an enthusiast and use them for digital media, terabytes of single player games and things where read speed doesn't matter as long as it's fast enough. I do have a 1TB NVMe drive and 2TB Sata drive and I use those for the programs that I need the speed on or multiplayer online games. Reply
  • azfacea - Monday, March 30, 2020 - link

    speed doesnt matter for games, yea good luck with that. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - link

    It really depends on the situation. The comment above yours is specifically referencing storage subsystem speed in the context of single player games. It makes lots of sense not to fret over access time and transfer rates in gaming where the only person it impacts is a single user at the keyboard of the local system. So a level or game area takes a hypothetical 15 seconds to load instead of 3? Who does it adversely impact in a single player game? Is the difference worth the added cost of solid state storage? Answers vary from one person to the next. In fact, I would even argue that answer varies where multiplayer gaming is concerned. Flight Simulator X, for instance, is non-competitive and a hard drive is perfectly adequate despite having a dedicated following of people that take the simulation of flight pretty seriously. Reply
  • caqde - Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - link

    Depends on the game. Alot of older games don't need storage speed. It could also be used to store a permanently store currently unused steam games. But as for current games you could that don't need speed Blastermaster Zero, Bloodstained Curse of the Moon, Wizard of Legend, Cthulhu Saves Christmas, and other such retro styled games. They don't need to speed so yes it wouldn't matter for them. Sure I wouldn't put something like Borderlands 3 on there, but there are plenty of small games that don't need SSD storage capabilities. Reply

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