If you only write the occasional letter or surf the Web on your PC, your present hard drive probably has more than enough space for your files. Nevertheless, even the largest capacity drives run out of storage space eventually. If you store a lot of music, photos or videos, your hard drive may run out of space quickly. So, if it's time to upgrade your current hard drive, replace a defective drive or just add a second one for more storage, you may have questions about what type you need and the options available to you. Before buying an internal drive, performing a cursory inspection of your system and evaluating your own computing habits can help you make the best buying decision and investment.
1Determine the type of interface you need for a new hard drive. Depending on the age of your computer, the motherboard may have only type of port for a hard drive or it may have two types. Older computer motherboards usually only have IDE interfaces designed for Parallel ATA drives, whereas newer boards usually have IDE ports and the more modern Serial ATA interface.
2Purchase the largest internal drive you can that fits within your budget. While a limited budget may mean you cannot buy the largest hard drive available, you may still be able to afford the second or third largest-capacity drive. Most of the time, there is a considerable price difference between the largest-capacity drive on the market and the one was the biggest only a few months prior. For example, when manufacturers began releasing 3-terabyte drives, the prices of 2TB and 2.5TB drives literally began falling overnight at many hardware retailing stores and websites.
3Narrow your hard drive search to two or three models after you decide on an interface and capacity range that fits your budget. Review owner and user reviews in forums on reputable computer hardware sites such as TomsHardware, CNET and AnandTech for comments and testimonials on drive performance and reliability.
4Evaluate the way you use your computer to determine how important a factor disk performance should be in deciding on which drive to buy. If your computing tasks consist mainly of writing letters or surfing the Internet, and your primary goal is just to add storage space, select a less-expensive hard drive with a spin rate of 5400 to 7200 RPMs and a relatively small cache of 2- to 4MB. However, if you plan on performing tasks where drive performance is crucial, such as video editing or 3-D rendering, you should purchase a fast 10,000 RPM drive that has a 8MB, 16MB or larger on-board cache.
5Evaluate the reputation of the manufacturer and their warranty coverage. While drives from smaller OEM producers may often cost less, they also usually come with significantly shorter warranty periods. Manufacturers such as Seagate and Western Digital generally offer 3- to 5-year warranties on all of their drives and are able to replace defective drives within a few days. With smaller, lesser-known hard drive manufacturers, you may only receive a 90-day to 1-year warranty, and replacement turnaround time for defective drives may be considerably longer.
- You can tell the difference between the IDE and SATA interfaces by simply looking at them. IDE connectors are about 2-inches wide and have 40 metal pins, while SATA ports are only about half an inch wide, and have no metal pins. SATA delivers much faster throughput than IDE. Therefore, if your motherboard supports SATA, it should be the interface you choose.
- Most modern hard drives from major manufacturers perform reasonably well and last a few years with reasonable care. However, certain drive models do seem to outperform and outlast others. Therefore, spending some time reviewing what other owners have to say about a particular drive can provide valuable information on the reliability of drives you are considering. In some cases, a minor flaw in the design or manufacture process of a drive becomes evident if there are many common complaints of failure or poor performance on owner forums.
- In addition to user owner forums, you might consider reviews from sites like PCWorld and PCMag. However, generally speaking, professional reviewers don’t spend as much time using a drive as do users that actually purchase the hard drives and use them in their systems.
- With applications that don’t transfer large amounts of data to and from a drive -- like a word processor or Web browser -- a faster spin rate and larger cache does not improve performance in the program that much. However, when rendering, converting or editing a large video file or 3-D model, the faster drive can improve performance of the tasks considerably. Faster drives with larger caches may also help improve performance in 3D games - especially in multiplayer games that send and receive large amounts of data very quickly.