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3TB Hard Drive Buyer's Guide

Since the last time we reported on 3TB hard drives a number of additional drives have become available on the market. What are the current options and how do they compare? There are the currently available drives.

The 3TB hard drives available fall into three categories: green, desktop, and enterprise. Some of the drives blur the line a bit but others clearly fall into one of the three categories. First off, let’s start with the green category.

Green Drives

The defining characteristic of “green” drives is that they are energy efficient. This also comes with a price and that price is performance. Although green drives still have good performance they are not up to desktop or enterprise levels. The energy efficiency is created by using slower rotational speeds. Both of the contenders are 5400RPM drives as compared to the faster 7200RPM drives in the other categories. Currently, there are only two offerings in the green category.

They are from Hitachi and Western Digital. The first is the Hitachi Deskstar CoolSpin 3TB hard drive. It operates at 5400RPM with 32MB of cache and features a 6.0Gb/s SATA III interface. This drive shares the same five platter construction as the other Hitachi 3TB models and boasts good but not excellent performance due to its slower rotational speed. This works out to be 600GB per platter. At the time of this writing, it is $149.99 from Amazon.com and is $129.99 from Newegg.

The other contender is the Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB hard drive. This drive features Western Digital’s IntelliPower which essentially means a slow but variable rotational speed. Unlike the Hitachi, Western Digital does not publish a specific rotational speed for the Caviar Green line of hard drives. The drive also features 64MB of cache and a 3.0Gb/s SATA II interface. This drive has a four platter design which works out to be 750GB per platter. As of this writing, it is $149.99 from Amazon.com and $149.99 from Newegg.

What green drive should you buy? Although we have not yet been able to acquire samples of each drive for testing, I would recommend the Hitachi drive over the Western Digital based on the performance of 2TB hard drives I have worked with before. If you have a clear prior preference for one brand over the other than purchase the brand you prefer but keep reading if you are not fully set on a green drive.

Desktop Drives

In the desktop category we also have two contenders: the Hitachi Deskstar 3TB and the Seagate Barracuda XT 3GB. Both drives are similar in design and specifications.

The Hitachi Deskstar 3TB drive features 7200RPM rotational speed along with 64MB of cache. As with the Hitachi CoolSpin 3TB drive, this drive also employs a five platter design which works out to be 600GB per platter. It also employs a 6.0Gb/s SATA III interface. At the time of this writing the drive is available from Amazon.com for $174.99 and Newegg for $179.99.

The other options in the desktop category is the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB hard drive. It also features 7200RPM rotational speed together with 64MB of cache. Just like the Hitachi designs, it is also designed with a five platter mechanism which means 600GB per platter. In addition, it features the same 6.0Gb/s SATA III interface. As of this writing, the drive is available from both Amazon.com and Newegg for $230 give or take a dollar or two.

Seagate has announced a three platter 3TB design but they are not yet available but should be by the middle of summer 2011. Comparing the Hitachi Deskstar 3TB 7200RPM drive to the Seagate Barracuda XT 3TB shows a clear winner for value. The Hitachi drive is most definitely a better value and performance is excellent. Once Seagate’s 1TB per platter density is reached, increased performance may be realized and this recommendation could be revised, but for now the Hitachi is definitely the winner.

Enterprise Drives

The final category is enterprise drives and it turns out only one drive fits in this category at this time. That drive is the Hitachi Ultrastar 7K3000 3TB hard drive. This drive shares essentially the same performance as the Hitachi Deskstart 3TB 7200RPM drive and it shares the same 7200RPM rotational speed, 64MB cache, and five platter design. The difference is that the Ultrastar features a five year warranty rather than the Deskstar’s three year warranty, is rated for a full 2 million hours mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) compared to the Deskstar’s nearly 2 million hours MTBF, and is optimized for enterprise RAID systems and RAID levels other than RAID 0 or 1. The differences from the Deskstar drive command a substantial price premium which puts this drive at $349.99 from Newegg.

Conclusion

What should you buy? There are two drives that soundly show their value and performance more than the rest. Those two drives are the Hitachi Deskstar CoolSpin 3TB 5400RPM drive and the Hitachi Deskstar 3TB 7200RPM drive. At $130, the CoolSpin drive is a great value for secondary storage. I would not use this drive as a primary working drive but for secondary backup or media storage it is a great value.

The Hitachi Deskstar 3TB 7200RPM drive on the other hand is a top performer at a great price. It works as a great all purpose drive for all manner of tasks. If you need a 3TB drive for anything multimedia up to and including RAID 0 or 1, this is your drive. The only scenario where you would jump up to the Hitachi Ultrastar 3TB drive would be for enterprise level RAID 5 or 6 arrays where money is no object and the system must have the absolute best drives available on the market especially since the Ultrastar is double the price of the Deskstar drive.

We appreciate your support by purchasing these drives through the Amazon.com and Newegg links. Buy the Hitachi Deskstar CoolSpin 3TB 5400RPM drive from Amazon.com or Newegg. Buy the Hitachi Deskstar 3TB 7200RPM drive from Amazon.com or Newegg.

(WARNING: Any 32-bit version of Windows only support up to 2.19TB of space for the boot drive. With some special finagling, a 3TB can be made to work in some scenarios as a secondary drive but I would only recommend using this drive with Windows Vista or 7 and only with the 64-bit edition. If you are a Mac user, there is nothing to worry about and it works fine. Linux is also no problem with any somewhat recent distribution.)

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