Choose a New Hard Drive for Your PC - dummies

By Dan Gookin

The number-one thing to look for in a new hard drive is capacity. How much more space will the hard drive provide to store my stuff? Generally speaking, for second internal hard drives, get a drive that’s at least as big as the drive already inside the PC.

Directly related to capacity is cost, of course. The higher the capacity, the more expensive the drive. But rather than look at the bottom line, calculate the storage in terms of dollars per gigabyte.

For example, if a 320GB drive costs $60 and a 500GB drive costs $70, why pay more for the 500GB drive? Because its cost is 14 cents per gigabyte. The 320GB drive is just under 19 cents per gigabyte. Yeah, it’s pennies, but the better value is in the higher-capacity drive.

Technically, you might want to pay attention to a few things in a hard drive.

Drive speed: Hard drives spin at a certain number of revolutions per minute (rpm). A speed of 7200 rpm is nice, and 10,000 rpm is better.

Buffer: In computer-speak, buffer means memory. On a hard drive, a buffer represents memory storage on the drive to help speed up operations. A 16MB buffer is very good, and 32MB is better.

Interface: This is either SATA (Serial ATA) or plain ATA. Other names for the ATA data cable include ATAPI, IDE, PATA, and UDMA. Variations on SATA are eSATA, the external version of SATA, and Ultra ATA, which is an older version of the standard.

Hard drives may have other technical aspects, but mostly you see them listed online and in stores by capacity, drive speed, buffer size, and interface.

  • When buying a hard drive to upgrade the PC’s console, you want an internal drive.

  • The reason the prices are so low on internal drives is that the drive doesn’t come with a case, a power supply, or an interface. Also, you’re installing things — and troubleshooting — on your own.

  • The considerations for a solid state drive (SSD) are the same as for a traditional, spinning, magnetic hard drive. Naturally, an SSDs is more expensive than a hard drive, which makes the SSD more of a novelty these days than a true alternative.

  • Windows cannot access more than 1 terabyte (TB), or 1,000 gigabytes (GB), on a single hard drive. Fortunately, drivers larger than 1TB aren’t common at this point in history.