Why You Shouldn't Give Up Your Hard Disk Drive Just Yet

Slow and steady wins the day

Key Takeaways

  • BackBlaze has published its annual hard-drive reliability study.
  • HDDs are more reliable than ever.
  • SSDs are faster and quiet, but for long-term storage, HDDs still win on price.
Closeup of a hard disk drive.
Patrick Lindenberg / Unsplash

Hard disk drives (HDDs), what are they good for? Absolutely everything—except speed.

The BackBlaze Hard Drive Stats for 2020 have been published, and they show us exactly which models are the most reliable under heavy use. But why would you use a slow, spinning HDD today, when faster, smaller solid state drives (SSDs) are the norm?

"Even though hard disk drives may seem like old technology, they still hold a firm position in our daily lives," Gregory Maksiuk, software engineer at CleanMyMac X, told Lifewire via direct message.

"Solid-state drives are superior in terms of speed, power consumption, size, and durability. On the other hand, they are way more expensive in terms of cost-per-bit, comparing to their predecessors." 

Stress Tests

BackBlaze is an online backup company. It has more than 160,000 hard drives in use, so it knows a thing or two about which ones work best, which ones are most reliable, and which ones die fastest. Every year, BackBlaze publishes the reliability results for these spinning platters, and they’re an interesting read, in general. 

But if you’re buying a hard drive, then you probably should take a look at the tables to find the best model for you. BackBlaze spreads its usage between manufacturers and models, which also spreads the risks. It also means that it has a wide pool of makes and models from which to draw its data. 

A hard drive cut in half.
Markus Spiske / Unsplash

We won’t go into the stats in detail, but the general takeaway is, hard drives were more reliable in 2020 than in the two years prior. The Annualized Failure Rate for 2020 was 50% lees, compared to 2019.

This improvement was seen both in newly added drives, and in older drives that are still in use. So, unless you need some specific SSD features, now is actually a great time to buy into this "old" technology.

Capacity and Price

There are two reasons you might want to buy HDDs in 2021. Capacity, and price. Hard drives are still way cheaper per gigabyte than SSDs. And if you’re buying these HDDs raw, without a fancy USB 3.0 enclosure and power supply, they’re even cheaper.

For instance, a quick look on Amazon shows that you can pick up a 1TB SSD for a little over $100. That’s the internal kind, not the portable kind with a USB connector. 

For comparison, a 4TB HDD can be had for $60-$70. And if you head away from Amazon, you can get them even cheaper. 

"Solid-state drives are superior in terms of speed, power consumption, size, and durability. On the other hand, they are way more expensive..."

That’s the low end. If you want a big drive, good luck. An 8TB internal SSD from Sabrent will cost you $1,500. An 8TB HDD can be had for as little as $200, or less if you’re only using it for archival purposes.

The problem with HDDs is that they’re slow and noisy. There are spinning disks inside, and their motors create noise. And because the read/write heads have to physically move to the correct spot on the disk, then wait to stop wobbling, they’re slow. Think of a vinyl record player, only way faster, and with the arm jumping all over the place, and you have the general idea.

The trick, then, is to use both HDDs and SSDs, putting each to work where it excels.

"At home, we may find HDDs to have their correct place as a photo, video, or file storage device on a local machine, where speed and durability are not as important as lower price and ability to store up to 18TB of data per disk," says Maksiuk.

So, for backups, or for anything that doesn’t require speed, use an HDD. And for the very fastest performance, or silent operation, use a solid state disk. 

"I’d say hard drives are good for anything you don't access all the time. Stuff like photos or videos," software developer Agneev Mukherjee told Lifewire via Twitter. "SSD is overkill for almost anything other than boot disk/video editing."

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