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: August 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 Q1 HDD guide. However, Western Digital did introduce their EAMR drives, with the 16TB and 18TB WD Gold enterprise models getting retail availability. The company also split their WD Red series of hard drives into the WD Red and WD Red Plus lines.


16TB and 18TB Western Digital Gold Enterprise Hard Drives - Recently Launched Retail 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.

August 2020 HDD Recommendations
Drive Segment Recommendations
High-Capacity Desktop 14TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $515
14TB Toshiba X300 $566
Mid-Capacity Desktop 6TB Seagate Exos Enterprise $185
High-Capacity NAS 16TB Seagate Exos X16 $372
Cost-Effective High-Capacity NAS 14TB Seagate Exos X16 $348
Mid-Capacity NAS 8TB WD Red Plus $204
8TB Seagate IronWolf $222
Power-Efficient, Low-Noise, High-Capacity 14 TB WD Red $449

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 Gold
  8. Western Digital Red
  9. Western Digital Red Plus
  10. Western Digital Red Pro

A few notes are in order - the WD Ultrastar DC lineup which used to be in our earlier guides is not widely available in the North American retail market. We have replaced it with the WD Gold series. Toshiba's MG08 series includes a 9-platter 16TB CMR model. However, it is 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 for the 9-platter drives.

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 Gold Datacenter and Bulk Cloud Storage
WD Red NAS Units up to 8 bays, Read-Intensive and Archival Workloads
WD Red Plus 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 Gold 550 600K 1 in 10E15 2.5M 5
WD Red 180 600K 1 in 10E14 1.0M 3
WD Red Plus 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 Gold) 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 and Red Plus drives are in the 5400 RPM class, while the rest are all 7200 RPM. From a raw performance perspective at equivalent capacity points, these might not win on benchmarks, but, it is likely to be the most power efficient and have the best noise profile of the lot. Another aspect to be kept in mind is that the WD Red line is now exclusively SMR-based, with the CMR drives moving to the WD Red Plus line. Unless the consumer is technically savvy enough to understand the pitfalls of SMR and its applicability to the desired use-case, the SMR-based WD Red line is best avoided.

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 27, 2020)
Cheapest Drives in Bold, AT-recommended Drives In Green
Drive Family 18TB 16TB 14TB 12TB 10TB 8TB 6TB
Seagate BarraCuda Pro - - $515 $455 $335 (Low Availabilty) (Low Availability)
Seagate IronWolf NAS - $465 $412 $320 $273 $222 $156
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS - $520 $439 $392 $329 $263 (Low Availability)
Seagate Exos Enterprise - $372 $348 $280 $253 $185 $180
Toshiba N300 - - $445 $350 $250 $205 $170
Toshiba X300 - - $566 $365 $294 (Low Availability) $155
WD Gold $593 $564 $496 $426 $347 $277 $223
WD Red - - - - - - $150
WD Red Plus - - $449 $305 $272 $204 $160 (Newegg)
WD Red Pro - - $490 $400 $350 $280 $195

The desktop storage market is a straight shoot-out between the Seagate BarraCuda Pro and the Toshiba X300 with both vendors competing in the key areas. For 12 TB and below, 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 for mid-rage capacities. In certain cases, the low price of the Seagate Exos drive may make it suitable for desktop usage also.

 

Prior to commenting on the other possible use-cases, one thing is clear from the above pricing matrix - if you absolutely require 18TB per disk, the WD Gold is your only choice for purchase in the retail market. We expect Seagate 18TB drives to appear in the retail market soon (at least in the Exos avatar), but till then, there is not much choice for the consumer)

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. 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 14TB Western Digital Elements with a re-labeled WD Red variant drive inside for $260), removing the internal drive, and using it in a NAS or as an internal desktop drive in the place of a more costly drive ($449). 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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  • PaulHoule - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    Anyone looking closely at the prices and positioning might conclude that the people in marketing are getting high on something.

    For instance I thought "NAS drives" were a racket to charge more money than desktop drives but now they decide that anyone who wants to slow down their desktop machine with a HDD has got to be foolish enough to spend a huge amount for the privilege.

    It reminds me of those luxury car ads they used to run years ago where the couple would talk about some feature like "Power Windows" and say that "Power Windows come Standard on a Lincoln Dominator" and don't say that you'll find exactly one stripper Cadillac per Cadillac dealership. It is all an act of hypnosis designed to prevent the husband and wife from snapping out of their trance and realize that there's no rational reason to buy a car more expensive than a Toyota Camry (e.g. go ahead and buy a Corvette but you are doing it for your feelings)

    My ZFS array just crossed 75% utilization and I am thinking about questions like: do I get 2, 3 or 4 disks of large, medium or small size?
    Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    <quote>My ZFS array just crossed 75% utilization and I am thinking about questions like: do I get 2, 3 or 4 disks of large, medium or small size?</quote>
    And the answer is none of the above. You get 6 drives and set them as a raidz2...
    Reply
  • Krieg - Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - link

    Multiple pairs of mirrored hdd >>>> raidz2 Reply
  • charlesg - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    Warranty and support matter!

    I just recently had a retail Toshiba NAS 8tb fail on me, a few months shy of the 3 year warranty mark. Their tech support did respond via email and after a few quick exchanges, they provided me an RMA. It's up to me to ship it to them. They said they'd send me a refund via visa card, presumably for the cost of my purchase? But it could take 6 weeks or so. They received the drive over a week ago and so far no further communication from them, and their website for checking the RMA status is broken. Good thing this was one of two parity drives in an Unraid setup!

    I recently bought two other 8TB drives, one Seagate, and one HGST Ultastar (which I think WD owns now), both with advertised 5 year warranties. This is the first time in probably close to a decade I've taken a chance on a Seagate .... and just today I read they don't honor warranties on OEM drives. Amazon listed it as 5 year warranty, but it came from their "marketplace", which probably means I don't really have a 5 year warranty (false advertising!). I hope I don't have to find out and end up regretting taking a chance on a Seagate drive.

    That 16TB Seagate looks almost too good to be true. That's a LOT of data, even if it does last 5 years!

    (Meanwhile I still have some 10 year old WD 1TB drives sitting around here that still work fine.)
    Reply
  • MrVibrato - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    No shit. How can Seagate honor a warranty if an OEM drive doesn't have a warranty.
    The same is true for any other manufacturers who are OEM to other vendors (like WD, for example; they also don't give warranties on their OEM drives). Anyway, if you keep thinking the problem is with taking a chance on a Seagate drive instead with taking a chance on an disreputable seller, well, i am not going to stop you from buying WD OEM drives from yet another disreputable seller. Have at it!
    Reply
  • charlesg - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    My point was you have to watch the warranty details. For example, the Seagate Extos drives listed here are advertised as having a 5 year warranty. Yet the link provided that goes to Amazon is for a non Amazon seller that may or may not honor that 5 year warranty. It also says "5 year warranty" on the Amazon page. Yet when you go to the comments you see people are getting bitten by this. Hopefully I won't be! Reply
  • alpha754293 - Friday, August 28, 2020 - link

    HGST is AWESOME.

    For me, it’s Ultrastar or nothing.
    Reply
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    Really SMR vs. CMR is one of the most important metrics here: Please add it to the table and a reference to the discussion!

    I use a HDD HW-RAID6 on my home server as well as an SSD RAID0 cache. Since the server is designed for low noise and power, I replaced 8x 2TB 3,5" 5k drives after some six years or so with 8x 4TB 2.5" 5k drives from Seagate about two years ago, which used quite a bit less power and were inaudible in the rubber-band mountings I had already used for the 3.5" drives. I wanted enough spindles to justify RAID6 and also enough sequential throughput so backups via the 10Gbit network don't take forever, instead of using a mirror set of really big drives.

    Prices were really pretty linear on capacity at the time and 2.5” vs. 3.5” stopped being a significant surcharge. Since I don’t need more than about a dozen terabyte in total, it made sense to break down the capacity into smaller disks at lower power footprint and aggregate their performance with the HW-RAID adapter I continue to use. 3.5” designs for 2 or 4TB at the time seemed to be older drives completely unchanged and with a power footprint that sometimes even exceeded a modern drive at 16TB.

    Initial benchmark gave rather good performance, around 700MB/s on eight spindles, for larger files like VM images and I was quite happy with my choice, especially since it did double the capacity, too.

    Alas, one drive failed just shortly before the warranty expired and while two replacement drives were in shipping, I realized that all high-capacity 2.5" SATA drives from Seagate ware actually SMR and the drive failure might have actually been caused by an attempt of the hardware RAID controller to do a rebuild: The write amplification of RAID6 + SMR is potentially quite atrocious, killed various ZFS RAIDZ2 setups, quite the same technically, which generated a lot of outrage, especially since WD felt fully justified to redefine just what a HDD is.

    Since the (cold standby) backup server was still using the old 2TB disks, I first needed a 2nd leg to stand on and got myself a 16TB IronWolf Pro drive to create a full backup (2-3 days).

    I then discovered that only Toshiba is still selling off some discontinued 3TB CMR 2.5” drives, it’s either 3.5” or bust. And at 3.5” CMR costs extra, either Watts or money.

    At that point I wrote a nice e-mail to Seagate about my dilemma and that I would have rather bought a 4TB CMR drive at the price of the 5TB SMR model, had I been properly informed and asked, if they had a solution.

    They did: They shipped me 6x 6TB 3.5” IronWolf NAS drives for the same RAID6 capacity, even before I sent back my 8 TB 2.5” SMR drives free of charge and over the week-end. Within another couple of days, I had all my data back from the backup and that nightmare was over.

    Looking back, Seagate was best at informing about the CMR/SMR technology on all their products after the scandal broke in May: I don’t know if WD has fixed their information policy since, no idea how they handle returns today.

    Historically I have used WD HDDs for many years as a preferred choice, because they were the only ones doing 5k drives at high capacities and I had been traumatized by the noise 7k drives could make at the time. I hold some parts of WD in high regards, also due to Martin Fink and their RISC-V initiative. But the bean-counters who probably overvoted the engineers on the SMR issue need to be held responsible.

    I gained two extra insights: I never tested the SMR drives in isolation before I put them into the RAID. Had I done that, I might have smelt the rat a little earlier. They gave around 2000 IOPS on random writes, which is physically impossible for a HDD: 50 IOPS are normal, something like 100 IOPS require 15k, short stroking or other tricks to achieve. It’s a clear sign that the HDD is simply writing a log, very much like the SLC cache on modern TLC/QLC SSDs or the log on an RDBMS.

    So as a backup drive for your notebook, or in a RAID1 mirror on your small NAS, SMR drives might actually be the better choice, because they cache random data in a linear manner. If your drive has more megabytes of cache than most PCs until well into the new century, that’s another hint. You need that to re-assemble shingles, but for a real cache. It’s ok to differentiate and innovate, but you need to inform your customer.

    7k drives these days are astonishingly quiet: The 16GB IronWolf Pro is so quiet even without the rubber mountings, I could easily put eight of those in the BOX. I heard HE drives were quieter, but this one spins in air. Of course, I won’t spend money for capacity I don’t need but it’s nice to now that noise is much less a constraint.
    Reply
  • ballsystemlord - Thursday, August 27, 2020 - link

    Spelling error:

    "Most consumers inn a non-business settings also require low-power and low-noise, yet, high capacity drives."
    Wrong in:
    "Most consumers in a non-business settings also require low-power and low-noise, yet, high capacity drives."
    Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Friday, August 28, 2020 - link

    To be honest, the only drives I tend to trust are Western Digital... Had to many Seagates die on me. Reply

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