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Should You Be Looking For A Hard Drive Upgrade?

Should You Be Looking For A Hard Drive Upgrade?
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Most desktop PCs bought or built in the past five years are probably using hard drives in the capacity range of 80 GB to 250 GB. Recent price drops in the hard drive market mean that most current drive generation is more attractive than ever before. You can get 1 TB hard drives for less than $100 now.

Knowing that capacity may not be the only impetus for upgrading your hard drive, we "recreated" a three-year old system with a 200 GB hard drive and looked at what would happen if we replaced the drive with a modern terabyte model.

New Versus Old: We replaced a three-year old 200 GB drive with a new terabyte model.New Versus Old: We replaced a three-year old 200 GB drive with a new terabyte model.

Capacity Quadrupled, Performance Doubled

It is safe to say that each and every hard drive selling today is far superior to older-generation drives, as improving recording technologies keep pushing forward capacities and performance. Other modifications, such as the interface transition from parallel ATA to Serial ATA 150 (and then 300 MB/s), also make a difference. But no individual feature—even Native Command Queuing or a larger cache—can make as much of a difference as simply stepping up from one drive generation to the next. In fact, the only reason why new hard drives aren’t getting faster to an even greater degree is an increased emphasis on power consumption and drive efficiency.

The bottom line is a simple recommendation that is almost always valid: when it comes time to buy a new hard drive, make sure the one you pick is a latest-generation model.

Capacity Upgrade: Check

The number one reason to purchase a new hard drive for an existing system, undoubtedly, is capacity, since a three-year old 200 GB hard drive fills up fast. In a year, most people typically add at least a few gigabytes of digital pictures, or even more data if video is stored on the drive. Add to that music, new applications, and so on. Unless you don’t touch digital media at all, you might need an additional 50-100 GB capacity per year, and enthusiasts and professionals may easily require far more. Hence, a hard drive replacement or upgrade every few years is absolutely warranted.

Performance Upgrade: Sure?

The next reason for replacing a hard drive would be performance. To illustrate this, we recreated a typical PC system using a Pentium 4 660 processor and a 915G-based motherboard from Asus with 1 GB of RAM; this represents an upper-mainstream system from the 2005-era. We selected a 200 GB Samsung Spinpoint P120 series SATA hard drive and ran several performance and power consumption benchmarks. Then we replayed the benchmark suite using a brand new 1 TB Samsung Spinpoint F2 EcoGreen to measure the difference.

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  • 12 Hide
    masterjaw , August 19, 2009 8:52 AM
    Nice article. Maybe you should've compared it also with a performance drive such as the WD Caviar Black to see a lot more difference. Even though system improvements in upgrading hdd is quite small unlike upgrading ram, there are still a lot of other benefits from getting a newer hdd.
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    masterjaw , August 19, 2009 8:52 AM
    Nice article. Maybe you should've compared it also with a performance drive such as the WD Caviar Black to see a lot more difference. Even though system improvements in upgrading hdd is quite small unlike upgrading ram, there are still a lot of other benefits from getting a newer hdd.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2009 10:18 AM
    It is the time required to reinstall a system, with the gzillion software and custom tweaks i need to get the system the way I like, that prevents me to upgrade, not the price of the hardware. If there was a way to easily migrate the system content of a harddrive to another, I would have done so several times already (that's also why I, like many others I'm sure, am waiting for win7 before getting an SSD). Any tips on how to easily switch harddrives without re-installing the system would be greatly appreciated.
  • -8 Hide
    xsamitt , August 19, 2009 10:39 AM
    LOL.....LOL....LOL......LOL....:}

    Today's hard drive review brought to you by the letter "F".
  • 7 Hide
    starlionblue0 , August 19, 2009 11:11 AM
    For your next review, compare with and SSD. :)  I went from a RAID 0 array with two 3 year old Seagate drives to one SSD. The performance impact is nothing short of staggering. Vista and 7 both told me that I cannot implement ReadyBoost since the system disk is "fast enough that ReadyBoost is unlikely to provide additional benefit". :) 

  • 7 Hide
    huron , August 19, 2009 11:12 AM
    epsiloneri314159It is the time required to reinstall a system, with the gzillion software and custom tweaks i need to get the system the way I like, that prevents me to upgrade, not the price of the hardware. If there was a way to easily migrate the system content of a harddrive to another, I would have done so several times already (that's also why I, like many others I'm sure, am waiting for win7 before getting an SSD). Any tips on how to easily switch harddrives without re-installing the system would be greatly appreciated.


    For this same reason, I use imaging products, such as Acronis, to take a snapshot of my system and image it to another drive. The newer products even take into account different hard drive sizes by allowing you to tell how much space you would like before or after the image. From there, you can just format the extra portion of the partition, or include it in the rest of the original partition.

    Imaging is great - no longer do you need to spend hours to install the OS, all your apps, your games, transfer your files, etc - you can just spend about an hour doing the same thing.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2009 11:16 AM
    "Any tips on how to easily switch harddrives without re-installing the system would be greatly appreciated."

    Pretty much any imaging software does the trick. Acronis Trueimage is nice, but costs a few bucks. For free option try Clonezilla. Not such a slick interface as payware but does the job equally well.

    Hey, even Windows built-in backup allows you to do a full system copy, although it's more hassle than other solution.
  • 1 Hide
    ebattleon , August 19, 2009 11:30 AM
    It is expected that a current gen HDD be better than last generation, and with improved energy consumption. I wished I could see the same from CPU's and Video cards
  • 0 Hide
    amnotanoobie , August 19, 2009 12:15 PM
    For ye average user the decrease in Windows boot time is enough to warrant an upgrade. It'd be faster to boot the computer, open Firefox, load Facebook/Twitter/Myspace?/any other damn social networking site/Youtube/actual news?
  • 0 Hide
    apache_lives , August 19, 2009 1:14 PM
    see i have 2x250gb seagate SATA's in RAID0, im thinking 2xWD blacks in RAID0 or even 1 may blow the doors off my current RAID0 setup...
  • 0 Hide
    megahunter , August 19, 2009 1:14 PM
    you should also put there an old pata 40Gb driver :D 
  • -2 Hide
    raptor550 , August 19, 2009 1:41 PM
    What did you guys get bought out by Samsung or something?

    What is with this 5400 RPM garbage? Any real enthusiast would never go for that garbage. Who cares about the 3 watt difference when your CPU consumes 140watts and your GPU consumes 250? Seriously, compare apples to apples. Ruined what would have been a useful review by only comparing old to garbage.
  • -6 Hide
    doomtomb , August 19, 2009 1:45 PM
    CHRISTLUBASI can't fill 40GB so 1TB is useless

    ... 40GB is your operating system and some programs. You mean you don't do anything productive on your computer like making documents, pictures, video, or music? Loser
  • 2 Hide
    B-Unit , August 19, 2009 1:45 PM
    Well Im glad the synthetics look better, where are any actual application load tests?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2009 2:04 PM
    epsiloneri314159: It's not that hard or time consuming, it's easily done in a day, mostly without too much supervision. Your older hard-drive could just as easily crap out on you, then you have to do a clean install without the benefit of having the opportunity to migrate.

    When I upgrade a hard-drive, I keep the old one, then just create a 20-30gb OS partition on the new one, then the rest is a data partition. I continue using both until I have the new one exactly the way I want it, then I eventually start booting from the new one, and keep the old one for redundancy of anything important. I don't really like to use disk imaging, but there are plenty of utilities for Linux that can do it.
  • 0 Hide
    WINTERLORD , August 19, 2009 3:39 PM
    great article. and yes it would be good to see one of the performance champions on the bench here for comparison. maybe even an affordable 64GB ssd. at any rate im thinking about buying a new hard drive. however iv been pushing to hold off to see what prices do when new stuff might come out in oct. dropping the prices even further possably. or able to pick up a 2TB with any luck for cheaper then 220
  • 0 Hide
    WINTERLORD , August 19, 2009 3:39 PM
    great article. and yes it would be good to see one of the performance champions on the bench here for comparison. maybe even an affordable 64GB ssd. at any rate im thinking about buying a new hard drive. however iv been pushing to hold off to see what prices do when new stuff might come out in oct. dropping the prices even further possably. or able to pick up a 2TB with any luck for cheaper then 220
  • 0 Hide
    Dax corrin , August 19, 2009 3:56 PM
    epsiloneri314159It is the time required to reinstall a system, with the gzillion software and custom tweaks i need to get the system the way I like, that prevents me to upgrade, not the price of the hardware. If there was a way to easily migrate the system content of a harddrive to another, I would have done so several times already (that's also why I, like many others I'm sure, am waiting for win7 before getting an SSD). Any tips on how to easily switch harddrives without re-installing the system would be greatly appreciated.

    Ever heard of Norton Ghost? I guess not, as that would clone your existing hard drive to your new drive with ease. There are also other disk cloning applications out there.
  • 0 Hide
    philosofool , August 19, 2009 5:17 PM
    At this point, I think most users that already have a SATA drive would be better served by buying a good 80 GB SSD for about $220 and placing system and program files on that, while placing user data on the conventional drive. That is certainly the way I plan to go once I can afford it, and the performance improvements will be much bigger than adding a new high capacity HDD. Granted, $220 is a lot more than $90, but if you're looking for performance and you don't need a new processor or more RAM, it seems like the best available option. Of course, I don't have any large media files, so I can get by with a 200GB data drive.
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