Hard drives are often overlooked when it comes to gaming performance. And while it’s true that, nowadays, hard drives are mostly eclipsed in performance by SSDs
and other flash storage drives, they still have an important place in the computing world, as they are still the most inexpensive storage option and come in sizes much greater than solid state drives.
This makes them an excellent choice if you’re building or upgrading a gaming hard drive with a small budget, and need maximum capacity, or to augment a smaller SSD that you use for your operating system. Whatever the reason you need to buy a gaming hard drive, it’s important that you recognize that not all hard drives are created equal, and to understand the pros and cons of each drive before making your purchase.
So in this article, we’re going to look at the top gaming hard drives on the market, then give you some recommendations on what to look for when in the market for a gaming hard drive.
A comparison of the top rated hard drives for gaming
If you’re short on time and just need to know the two best hard drives on the market for gamers, we’ll go over them now.
The Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 7200RPM hard drive is our top pick for gamers on a budget. It’s reliable, dependable, and comes with an excellent warranty. It’s inexpensive and can be used in RAID setups for additional speed or reliability, and easy installation makes adding more storage later on a breeze.
If you’re in the market for something a little more high-end, we recommend the Seagate FireCuda Hybrid HDD – this drive uses a large, 8GB NAND flash cache to massively increase performance compared to most standard hard drives, at a cost per GB that’s still much lower than SSDs. It’s a great pick if you’ve got a bit more money to spend, but need more storage than an SSD or don’t quite have enough in your budget to pick one up.
Roundup review of the 7 best hard drives for gaming
Best overall quality and value: WD Blue 1TB SATA 6 Gb/s 7200 RPM 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch Desktop Hard Drive
When it comes to best reliability, quality, and storage capacity at a bargain price, the WD Blue 1TB hard drive has proven itself for years. Over the last few years, not much has changed about this hard drive, although it does now come in the standard 7200RPM model, and is not available in the slower 5400RPM style.
This hard drive is about as simple as it gets – 1 terabyte of reliable storage with a large 64MB cache, using the SATA 3 6 GB/s interface along with a 7200 rpm internal drive to deliver fast, reliable storage.
And at this low price for the 1TB hard drive, this option is especially popular for those who are looking to add additional storage to their PCs or are interested in a RAID solution for additional safety and security.
Overall, if there’s only one hard drive you pick from this list, and you’re in need of a great blend of low price and high reliability and performance, the WD Blue 1TB is certainly the best choice on our list – and perhaps the best hard drive for gaming on the market.
Loads of storage: Seagate 3TB BarraCuda SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive
This drive from Seagate offers an incredible deal when it comes to gigabytes of storage per dollar spent, and it doesn’t skimp on other features, including a 7200rpm spinning design, industry-standard 64MB cache, and a 6gb/s SATA interface for maximum speed, even when transferring data to SSDs and flash storage devices.
This drive also comes with a 2-year warranty, which is great if you’re concerned about the longevity of the drive. However, Seagate has a pretty stellar reputation, so it’s unlikely that this drive will fail out of the box, and it’ll likely last much longer than the 2 year warranty period.
Compatible with any desktop PC using SATA connectors, it’s easy to install, and a great upgrade if you’re running low on space and need plenty of storage for videos, movies, music, documents, and especially games – 3 terabytes of storage means that you can stash 50 25GB AAA titles – with space to spare, which makes it a great choice if you’re looking for the best gaming hard drive available with lots of storage capacity.
Professional grade, yet bargain-priced: WD Black 2TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive – 7200 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch
If you’re looking for a professional-grade hard drive to use in your gaming rig, the WD Caviar Black is an exceptional choice.
This drive is built with durability, speed, and longevity in mind, and comes with a standard 5-year warranty. It also incorporates many proprietary WD safety technologies, such as vibration protection, corruption protection, and NoTouch ramp loading technology that minimizes the contact moving parts have with each other, leading to a longer-lived, better-performing drive.
In addition, this hard drive features a dual-core controller cache and architecture which helps improve drive speed alongside the 64MB cache, 7200RPM drive-platter design, and SATA 6.0GB cabling.
Overall, it’s an incredibly powerful and durable hard drive and easily blasts other high-end HDD competitors out of the water with its speed and reliability, and certainly one of the best gaming HDD options available if you need high speed.
Best hybrid hard drive for gaming: Seagate 2TB FireCuda 3.5-Inch SATA 6Gb/s 7200-RPM 64 Cache Gaming SSHD
Hybrid drives are a relatively new technology, and they combine two older storage technologies into a brand new type of HDD – a large flash memory cache functions as a sort of small SSD, caching new files and reading/writing files that need immediate attention, and eventually shuffling all of the data onto the physical hard drive itself.
By doing so, these drives manage to achieve speeds that are up to 5x faster than traditional hard drives, and they still maintain a lower cost per gigabyte than solid state drives, so they’re a great middle ground if you’re interested in SSDs but don’t have the budget for one.
This drive by Seagate is one of the best hybrid drives on the market, and it comes complete with a high quality, 8GB NAND flash partition to help achieve blazing fast read/write speeds.
This speed is especially noticeable when using the hybrid drive as a boot drive – since all important data can be cached onto the flash section of the drive, you’ll notice massive speed boosts when your computer is starting up, allowing you to get into your game faster.
Not only does this drive boast read/write speeds of over 200MB/s, it’s totally reliable – hybrid discs tend only to fail when the physical hard drive fails, so it’s just as reliable as Seagate’s other drives, and is offered with a 5 year warranty for peace of mind on your investment
Best budget hard drive for gaming: Western Digital (WD) Caviar Blue 320 GB Desktop Hard Drive
If you are building a PC on an extremely low budget, this is the drive for you. It uses the same high-quality technology that the WD Caviar Blue drive uses, but in a 320gb package that’s even more affordable – if you really need to cut costs, you may want to use this drive as your primary drive, and then upgrade your rig with some more storage options when more money comes along down the line.
Despite its low price, this drive is still great – boasting all of the top-of-the-line features that makes the Western Digital Caviar Blue one of the best selling hard drive lines of all time.
The low capacity can also be augmented by external hard drives that you may already have, or flash storage options. Overall, though 320GB is hardly generous, it’s enough to operate a computer, and with the ease-of-installation that most HDDs offer, it’s not hard to add additional storage later.
So if you really need to cut costs to get a better graphics card, processor, or motherboard – this drive is a good compromise. It won’t blow you out of the water, but it’s darn cheap, and good at what it does, despite its limited capacity.
Best non-hybrid performance hard drive: WD VelociRaptor 500 GB Workstation Hard Drive
If you’re looking for extreme performance, but aren’t interested in hybrid or SSD options, you may be interested in this VelociRaptor 500 – a 10,000 RPM traditional hard drive that’s been built with maximum speed and performance in mind.
It’s quite hard to find another hard drive that can give this one a run for its money – though the high price is certainly to be a turnoff for some.
For the price, though, you get some stunning performance – this drive has been measured at 1.4 million hours Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), meaning they have the highest possible rating for currently available traditional SATA hard drives.
The read/write speed of this drives is around 190MB/s – comparable to the hybrid Seagate FireCuda reviewed above, and much faster than the Western Digital Caviar Black – one of our other high-performance hard drive choices.
If you really want a maximum capacity hard drive with incredible speed and reliability, this is the drive for you. However, it doesn’t come cheap – and if you’re looking at prices like the 1TB model of this drive, you could easily afford a comparable SSD, which would have higher performance and even better reliability.
Still, if you don’t like SSDs or demand max performance from all your hardware and cost isn’t a factor, this is a great choice
Best hard drive for laptop gaming: WD Black 1TB Performance Mobile Hard Disk Drive
We realize that not everyone out there is gaming on a high-performance PC or a custom-built rig. Sometimes, you game with what you’ve got, whether it’s a purpose-built gaming laptop or just an all-purpose laptop with a strong enough graphics card for older or more basic games.
So if you’re a laptop gamer, you may be interested in upgrading your stock hard drives – as it’s one of the only upgrades that you can make on most OEM laptops. If that’s the case, the Caviar Black 2.5” HDD is right for you – this drive packs all of the performance and quality of the WD Caviar Black drive into a compact, mobile package, and will improve the performance of your laptop, as well as the loading times and performance of your games.
What To Know About Buying Hard Drives
There are quite a few factors to consider when looking for the best HDD for gaming, so let’s go through the main information that you should know now, to help you improve your shopping experience, and find the product that’s right for you.
Speed is, perhaps, the most important aspect of purchasing a new hard drive. One of the main controls of speed in a traditional, platter-based hard drive is the RPM, or Rotations Per Minute, of the physical hard drive platter – a higher number generally means higher performance, as the hard drive itself is spinning more quickly to more easily access or write specific pieces of data.
However, that’s not the whole picture – some 7200RPM drives are easily as fast as other 10,000RPM hard drives – much of this depends on the cache of the hard drive. This is where data that’s being read and written is stored, and having a large, speedier cache is where many hard drives differentiate themselves from the competition.
Equally important in speed is a high-quality disk controller – this piece of hardware is what communicates with your motherboard and CPU, and controls the actions of the hardware itself.
Combining these and several other factors, you will end up with your speed – usually measured in MB/s (megabytes per second), which is the primary way that speed is measured in hard drives.
A higher read performance means that the drive is better at identifying and finding certain pieces of data and reading them, while higher write performance means that the drive will more easily be able to move and write large digital files.
Capacity is an important consideration when buying a hard drive. Generally, bigger is better – prices remain fairly consistent per MB until you get close to the 10TB mark, so if you know you’ll be using a hard drive for a long time, having a dependable and spacious drive means you won’t have to add additional storage for quite a while, so you might as well go big, and get a 4TB or larger hard drive.
However, this isn’t always necessary – most dedicated PC towers can handle at least 4 or 5 hard drives with the amount of docks and bays included in the design, and almost all motherboards manufactured today for gamers include 4-6 SATA connectors, so you won’t have to worry about running out of space for additional drives.
So if you’d prefer redundancy to one large hard drive, you can always buy a couple smaller disks, and diversify where you store your files in case of hard drive failure – either manually, or by setting up a RAID array (which we’ll discuss later in the article).
Capacity is also the primary factor in determining the price of a disk – the higher the capacity, the higher the price. So if you don’t have the budget for a 4TB or higher hard disk at the moment, you can just buy a smaller model, and augment your desktop setup later with another disk and more storage space.
Longevity is the next most important factor in selecting a hard drive. In an ideal world, hard drives would never fail – but we don’t live in an ideal world, and hard drives fail – often.
In the IT world, there’s a saying: “There are only two types of hard disks. Hard disks that have failed, and hard drives that are failing.” Though this is cynical, it’s true – compared to SSDs and other flash storage devices, hard drives are much more volatile, and it’s rare for a hard drive to last more than 10 years, let alone half that.
Most hard drives today are easily able to last 3 years, and usually upwards of 5 years – and higher quality drives will often come with manufacturer’s warranties of 5 years or more.
Despite this, you can never totally count on the hard drive to work forever, so you should always backup your data, or use some method of protection such as a RAID array (which we’ll cover in a moment).
There are two form factors available for HDDs at the moment – 3.5” and 2.5”.
3.5” hard drives are quite large and bulky compared to 2.5” drives and are typically used in desktop setups where space isn’t at a premium, and their larger form factor is easier to work with. These are some of the oldest designs of hard disks on the market, and they’re designed to work well with any PC setup.
2.5” hard drives were developed for the laptop market – these much smaller, thinner drives offer the same storage capacity as larger 3.5” drives – but are usually a bit more expensive. Generally, these are only used for laptops – though recently, Xbox One and PS4 consoles have begun supporting internal and external storage devices in the 2.5” range, and some small-capacity PC towers such as Micro ATX models support the 2.5” form factor over the larger 3.5” form factor in order to save space and maintain a lightweight, portable PC.
Generally, what’s best for you depends on what you’re working on. For most PC gamers, 3.5” is preferred, as it’s the least expensive, and works well with most modern PC towers and motherboards.
Conversely, if you’re working on a laptop, you’ll have to buy a 2.5” disc – the larger 3.5” simply won’t fit in the small form factors of modern laptops.
Hybrid discs use a small solid state drive as a cache staging area – sort of like the RAM is used in day-to-day computer operation.
By storing data that is recently accessed and recently written on this solid state drive, the performance of the HDD is massively increased – as time goes on, data is flushed from the SSD to the permanent storage of the disc.
This makes them a great alternative to expensive SSDs, as they can offer somewhat comparable performance at nearly the same price per gigabyte as traditional hard drives, giving you much greater capacity compared to an SSD in the same price range.
And despite their dual construction, the failure rate of hybrid drives is about the same as standard HDDs, as the flash-based cache is unlikely to fail before the physical hard disk.
However, they still fall flat compared to true SSD performance, and can get quite expensive when purchased in large capacity, so if you’ve got the money to invest in a hybrid disc, it’s often a good idea to see if you can buy both a small-capacity SSD and a standard 3.5” HDD, and use those instead of a single disc for increased capacity and performance.
HDDs, RAID, and you
If you are looking to either increase your HDD performance or mitigate the high failure rate of physical storage discs, you may want to look into a RAID setup.
Basically, a RAID setup uses multiple hard disks to either increase speed, or increase redundancy, allowing you to use multiple disks as one to increase the read and write speeds, or combine their storage capacity and redundancy to ensure your system will continue to operate if one disk fails.
RAID setups vary in their application, but there are 3 basic RAID levels that are useful for consumer computing.
RAID 0 is a very easy to implement RAID level – basically, this method uses two hard drives acting as one to increase performance, as both discs can have data written on them and read from them at the same time.
The main drawback of RAID 0 is there is no parity, data striping, or redundancy – if one of your discs fails, the entire system will fail, which means your risk of data loss is doubled compared to just using one disk. However, some people enjoy the increased performance and implement RAID 0 into their systems anyway.
RAID 2 is another simple RAID implementation – instead of using both drives as one, as in RAID 0, RAID 2 mirrors your hard drives – that is, by using two hard drives and perfectly mirroring the data on each, you can ensure your computer will maintain perfect operation if one drive fails.
The drawback of this is obvious – data must be written and read twice, which lowers the speed at which your computer operates. However, the redundancy offered by this setup helps mitigate that, as you know our data is safe, even with sometimes-unreliable physical hard drives. Clowers read and write times somewhat, but provides perfect redundancy, allowing your computer to maintain operation if one drive fails.
Other RAID levels aren’t really applicable to consumer-grade games – if you’re interested, read more about them, but often you’d be better off just buying a reliable SSD if you have the budget for more than 2 full-size hard drives.
While there are many elements of picking out a hard drive that are complicated, the end answer to “What’s the best hard drive for me” is pretty simple.
If you’re building a budget PC and need a hard drive that’s reliable, fast, and inexpensive, you can’t beat the 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue Hard Drive. It’s at the perfect price point, it’s reliable, and you can buy multiple drives to make a RAID setup, or to expand your storage capacity at a later date.
However, if you’ve got a little more money to spare and aren’t interested in a solid state drive, we recommend the Seagate FireCuda Hybrid HDD – it’s got huge performance, solid reliability, and available in over 2TB sizes.
Whatever your budget, you’re sure to find the hard drive that’s perfect for you and your PC on this list, and the recommendations above are a great place to start. Once you understand the basics about hard drives and their utility, you’ll be able to make the right choice for you and your rig.