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: July 2021

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.

After the release of the HDD guide coinciding with Seagate's launch of the Ironwolf Pro and Exos 18TB drives, and Western Digital's introduction of the 16TB and 18TB WD Red Pro models, we saw the availability of the high-capacity drives improve a bit. However, supply chain challenges have resulted in increased prices for cutting-edge products.

In addition, the Chia Coin cryptocurrency-fueled storage mania has resulted in strong demand for high-capacity hard drives. We also saw a number of third-party sellers attempting to make a quick buck with hugely inflated prices for these drives. However, availability has improved considerably over the last couple of months. In addition, with the traditional mid-Q3 HDD capacity upgrades from different vendors around the corner, the pricing has in fact come down considerably from the launch MSRPs.

Synology has introduced 8, 12, and 16TB enterprise hard drives (rebranded Toshiba Enterprise HDDs with custom firmware), but they are meant specifically for Synology NAS units (no warranties if used in other systems) and are not part of this buyer's guide. Toshiba's MG09 18TB HDDs based on FC-MAMR are yet to get retail availability, and are also not part of this buyer's guide


Seagate and Western Digital's 18TB Hard Drives - Q3 2020 Introductions

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 in a non-business settings also require low-power and low-noise, yet, high capacity drives, which we're including as an explicit category as well.

Overall, if absolute lowest cost and highest capacity are the only requirements irrespective of the use-case, then the Seagate Exos X18 fits the bill, with unbelievably low prices compared to other 'consumer' HDDs at similar capacity points. At other capacity points, the most cost-effective drives vary even when similar workload ratings are considered. It must be noted that the Exos series drives are relatively noisy and consume much more power compared to other drives tuned for specific use cases - such as the Barracuda Pro and Toshiba X300 for desktop usage, or the WD Red SMR drives for read-heavy / sparing writes scenarios.

July 2021 HDD Recommendations
Drive Segment Recommendations
High-Capacity Desktop 12TB Toshiba X300 $398
Mid-Capacity Desktop 10TB Seagate BarraCuda Pro $350
High-Capacity NAS 18TB Seagate IronWolf Pro $625
Cost-Effective High-Capacity NAS 14TB WD Red Plus $441
Mid-Capacity NAS 8TB WD Red Plus $220
Power-Efficient, High-Capacity 14 TB WD Red Plus $441

There are three active vendors in the consumer hard drive space - Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital. Seagate and Western Digital offerings top out at 18TB for the SMB market, while Toshiba has capacities of up to 16TB.

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.

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 Toshiba 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 SMR drive is in the 5400 RPM class, while the other drives (including the Red Plus) are all 7200 RPM. Despite similar spindle speeds, the Red Plus firmware is optimized for power efficiency and low noise profile. It might not win out on benchmarks, but possesses qualities that are important for many consumer use-cases. 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 July 23, 2021)
Cheapest 'Available' Drives for NAS in Bold, AT-recommended Drives In Green
Drive Family 18TB 16TB 14TB 12TB 10TB 8TB 6TB
Seagate BarraCuda Pro - - OoS $576
(Newegg)
$350 $170 $140
Seagate IronWolf NAS - $620
(Amazon)
$475
(CDW / OoS?)

$460
(Newegg / OoS)
$360
(Newegg)

$359
(Amazon)
$315 $226 $150
Seagate IronWolf Pro NAS $625
(Newegg)
$550
(Newegg)

$545
(Amazon)
$480
(Newegg)
$423
(Amazon)

$410
(Newegg)
$340
(Amazon)

$340
(Newegg)
$280
(Newegg)
$200
(Newegg)
Seagate Exos Enterprise $459
(Newegg)
$394
(Amazon)
$330 $323 $300 $224 $200
Toshiba N300 - - $479 $358 $270 $205 $170
Toshiba X300 - - $498 $398 $302 $220
(Newegg / OoS?)
$160
WD Gold $623
(Newegg)

$623
(Amazon)
$515
(Amazon)

$532
(Newegg)
$480<
(Amazon)/a>

$502
(Newegg)
$390
(Amazon)

$390
(Newegg)
$305
(Amazon)

$320
(Newegg)
$280
(Amazon)

$280
(Newegg)
$210
(Newegg)
WD Red - - - - - - $140*
WD Red Plus - - $441 $399 $329 $220 $150
WD Red Pro $600
(Newegg)
$520
(WD)
$460
(Newegg)
$426 $330 $290 $195

The desktop storage market is a straight shoot-out between the Seagate BarraCuda Pro and the Toshiba X300. The capacity for this market segment tops out at 14TB. The Toshiba X300 is consistently priced lower than the Seagate BarraCuda Pro. However, the higher capacity versions of the Toshiba X300 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 at certain capacity points, we get a much higher workload rating, better reliability, and three extra years of warranty. So, this is a case where the benefits could outweigh the cost. Had the 14TB model been in stock, the Seagate BarraCuda Pro, could have gotten our recommendation as before. However, given the huge gulf in pricing, the 12TB X300 is our drive of choice for desktop usage.

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, WD Red Pro, Seagate IronWolf Pro, and the Seagate Exos Enterprise are your only choices for purchase in the retail market currently. The Chia Coin craze seems to have tapered off, with the availability and pricing of these 18TB models improving considerably.

On the SOHO / SMB NAS front, the Seagate Exos series and WD Gold, despite their enterprise background, continue to make a good case across multiple capacity points. The only places where the WD Red Plus could edge out as a better choice are scenarios where the power consumption needs to be kept low. The 6TB WD Red is also among the lowest-priced 6TB drives currently in the table, but it is a SMR drive and is not recommended for most use-cases. 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, managing to undercut the IronWolf Pro across almost all capacities. However, a plus point for the IronWolf Pro is the inclusion of the Data Rescue Service for a 3-year period in addition to the usual warranty.

Based on the above analysis, the recommendations for the NAS drives are clear - for the absolute highest capacity drive currently in the market (if you have to compulsorily get one) - Seagate IronWolf Pro, WD Red Plus when performance is not as important as overall power consumption and low noise profile, and the Seagate IronWolf 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 / firmware-modified WD / HGST Ultrastar HC530 DC for $344), removing the internal drive, and using it in a NAS or as an internal desktop drive in the place of a more costly drive ($441). 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 - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    Okay but what about normal people? Reply
  • shabby - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    I know right, I bought a 14tb ext for $200 and shucked it. Reply
  • artifex - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    Nice deal. How long ago? Right now Best Buy's charging that much for an 8TB easystore. :) Reply
  • shabby - Saturday, July 24, 2021 - link

    Maybe 6 months ago at bb. Reply
  • npz - Saturday, July 24, 2021 - link

    2 days ago Newegg had a promo code reducing the Seagate 14TB external to $279. Sale is now over unfortunately. The 16TB I know, and the 14TB I think, are full branded Exos inside with warranty, and is better than WD for shucking IMO since WD uses a white label external specific drive with SATA PWDIS (3.3v detection disable) Reply
  • GoldenBullet - Saturday, July 24, 2021 - link

    I did the exact same, in march and the beginning of April. Because of the hard drive crypto crap it never went back down to 200$. Reply
  • amschroeder55 - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    @Ganesh, you say that users don't need enterprise features found in the Exos drive, but somehow are ignoring that the Exos drives (which are indeed overkill for NAS, but in a good way) is cheaper than every single one of your recommendations from 12 TB and above. Not sure how a lower tier 600 dollar drive could ever be recommended over the same size enterprise drive for 450. If people need/want huge drives, the current Exos pricing is a great time to get in on the field. I just picked up 4 14TB drives as a result of the market. Naturally though as soon as prices change recommendations must as well. Reply
  • amschroeder55 - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    As far as the noise and power goes, if you look at the He range's ratings, the following bel ratings are not exactly uncompetitive (they are much quieter than my older non-He HGST Deskstar NAS drives). Also hard drive power consumption for consumers is not a trait that should be seriously worried about outside of laptops, and these don't make sense there anyways. Again using manual for the Exos series, idling at 5W typical operation around 7-10W is not exactly meaningful, unless you want to start telling people they need to avoid RGB to save power...

    Idle
    2.8 (typical)
    3.0 (max)

    Performance seek

    3.2 (typical)
    3.4 (max)
    Reply
  • desiredusernamestring - Friday, July 23, 2021 - link

    This did stand out as a bit odd looking at the pricing table with the high capacity Exos being noticeably less expensive.

    On the noise and power comparison, does anyone know of any reviews that test the datasheets' claims for these drives?
    It's one thing to compare datasheets for models from the same manufacturer but it would be good to confirm with independent testing, given things like WD's "5400RPM class" and the possibility of manufacturers changing specs while using the same drive family branding.
    Reply
  • PaulHoule - Sunday, July 25, 2021 - link

    Every month they have to bend over backwards to make a case that you should buy something other than Exos.

    I have been living with a pair of them since April and the noise is not remarkable other than a very assertive chirp they make for a few seconds when they are booting up. (If Ferrari made a hard drive it might sound like that.)

    As for power, here are my thoughts. Data centers watch every watt because they pay for it and they know it. In a household environment there is so much noise it is hard to tell if anything makes a difference on your power bill. Maybe it is different on the mac, but for Windows desktop, power management is something you disable to stop your machine from crashing and keep your USB ports working.

    The money you save with the Exos is very real, so if anyone wants to advocate overpriced and oversegmented drives, the burden on them is to show that you can save $100+ over the lifetime with WD CRIMsON ++ NasWonderVerse LyricalMagical drives.
    Reply

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