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2015 Laptop Hard Drive Buying Guide

Expert laptop hard drive recommendations and purchasing tips.

  • High-end: 500+ GB 7200 RPM
  • Mainstream: 320+ GB 5400 RPM
  • Mainstream: 320 GB 5400 RPM
  • Budget: 160 GB 5400 RPM

What's the scoop on laptop hard drives?

A laptop hard drives performance today is just as crucial to any computer as it's ever been, and if you want the absolute best mobile experience period you are going to want to make the right decision, trust us!

Throughout this guide we are going to show you exactly what to look for so your laptop will meet your unique mobile demands and then some.

Choosing the right hard drive type, capacity, rotational speed, and cache size among other things will be a determining factor to your laptop's overall performance.

So let's move forward and decipher exactly what you will want to look for, shall we?

Hard Drive Details:

In today's advanced digital world laptop hard drive storage demands are larger then they've ever been.

After all you will want and most certainly need plenty of space for all your digital photos, music, videos, software applications, and not to mention the operating system itself.

Even a common application such as Microsoft Office Standard Edition demands on its own over one quarter of a gigabyte. 

We've even seen computer games in comparison take up over four gigabytes.

So as you see capacity is something to definitely pay special attention to when purchasing a new laptop or upgrading an existing laptop hard drive.

We currently recommend at the bare minimum 160GB, however a 320GB or higher is preferred. 320GB is a great starting point for many of you but if you plan on working with games, video, audio, or other storage demanding applications now or in the future, a laptop hard drive even bigger than 320GB will be a better option.

If you are on an absolute budget, again we recommend no matter how basic your needs are that you go for no less than a 160 GB hard drive. Since prices are so cheap these days it just doesn't make sense in our opinion to go for anything smaller.

Spindle/Rotational Speed - Solid-state hard drive?

Gaming Laptops
We take a look at gaming laptops.

A must for any laptop hard drive today is a fast spindle speed. The faster the drive spins, the faster it performs overall. A drives spindle speed is measured in (RPM) revolutions per minute. Common spindle speeds today are 5400 and 7200 RPM.

We typically recommend at the bare minimum a hard drive with a 5400 RPM spindle speed. For small ultra-compact and thin & light laptops a 4200 RPM drive is however ok because the slower motor will require less electricity to operate thus giving you a bit more battery life. Not too many laptops these day come bundled with 4200 RPM drives however, but you may still encounter them from time to time.

On the other hand, because of a fairly negligible power demand increase over 4200RPM drives, we feel the performance advantage to a 5400RPM laptop hard drive is a worthwhile trade off. Just remember that as a laptop hard drive spindle speed increases so does the drain on your laptop's battery.

If you plain on working with video, audio, and especially gaming applications, we highly recommend a 7200RPM drive for it will be very beneficial to your productivity. Because performance is more important with these applications, increased battery power demands will be a worthwhile tradeoff.

If you crave ultimate performance there is also the option offered in some laptops called a solid state hard drive or SSD. 

Solid state hard drives actually don't have mechanical parts inside but instead store information on a special type of flash memory, similar in fact to a digital camera memory card. 

With a Solid-state laptop hard drive spindle speed is nonexistent and thus these drives are much faster than the traditional hard drive that uses a platter spinning via a motor. 

Because there is no mechanical components, solid state hard drives are more durable too and so you will often see them in the so called ruggedized laptop models offered by various manufacturers such as Panasonic and Dell.

Because of the lack of a motor, laptop battery life is also going to be a bit better than with a traditional mechanical hard drive.

One major drawback currently with sold state hard drives on the other hand is that they are still limited in storage capacity and also more expensive than their mechanical counterparts.

In the future we may see a solid state hard drive or a more advanced laptop hard drive technology as standard, but until then we don't currently feel it is worth the price premium for these newer solid-state memory drives, unless of course you crave ultimate mobile performance or need the shock resistance capability that solid-state drives offer.

And before you take the plunge and purchase a laptop with a solid state drive we also recommend that you perform a little research and  read some reviews on the laptop.  By spending this extra time you will be more informed and will then be certain that the price premium for the SSD drive equipped laptop will be worth the investment.

Cache/Buffer Size:

While you will not always see manufacturers mention buffer size when you are laptop shopping, knowing a bit about buffer/cache size is important because you will encounter cache size if upgrading a laptop hard drive and not to mention you will also be fully prepared to make a decision on hard drive cache size if ever encountered in the first place.

We aren't going to get too technical, but a hard drive cache is a small chunk of memory in the hard drive that stores program instructions for faster access. Basically data is fetched off the slower mechanical spinning platters and stored in the cache/buffer where it can be accessed much faster. This is similar to the way an Intel processor cache works. Keep in mind that cache is also often referred to as a buffer.

We recommend you look for a laptop hard drive with at least an 8 MB cache these days, though if available remember more is always better when speaking of caches.

Final Thoughts:

As you've seen in this laptop hard drive guide, making the right decision is going to be easier than you may have imagined. Just remember your specific needs first and foremost, plan with the future in mind for you never know what the software demands will be then or even how your own demands will change, and if necessary go with your gut feeling.

When buying any laptop or desktop computer we like to plan for at least 3 years into the future when choosing features. We say 3 years because often it is then that current technology has far surpassed your original configuration.

So in a nutshell remember that a faster spindle/rotation speed will trade off battery runtime for better overall performance, a larger cache/buffer is better, and more storage capacity will mean plenty of space for current and future storage demands.

See also:

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