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Consumer vs. Enterprise Hard Drives

Over the last 12 months, the computing hardware market has seen dozens of new product launches and announcements. Intel and AMD recently released powerful new CPUs aimed at the workstation and server markets. Interest in artificial intelligence, crypto-currency mining and machine learning has driven demand (and prices) for NVIDIA GPUs to unheard-of levels.

We’ve covered some of the recent innovations in hard drive technology. We mentioned how other components garner more headlines, but storage technology continues to improve as well. This makes sense because storage is not as headline-grabbing, and yet it is one of the few components every IT department upgrades or replaces regularly. Even if you move all company storage to the cloud, you still have desktop and laptops to upgrade and repair.

When it comes time to upgrade your storage, you have a choice of consumer or enterprise-grade models. By using confusing model numbers and brands, hard drive manufacturers don’t make it easy to differentiate between enterprise and consumer drives. This article will look at offerings from Western Digital and Samsung, with the goal to help you select the best drive for your workstations and servers.

Introduction

To illustrate the differences in drives, we will use two reputable and popular names in the mechanical and SSD business: Western Digital and Samsung. Both Western Digital and Samsung offer a wide range of consumer and enterprise drives. They also build application-specific drives mostly found in data center environments.

While Western Digital and Samsung make excellent drives, they are not the only ones to do so. Companies such as Toshiba, Seagate, HGST, Intel, and Kingston make excellent products. If you have had good luck with another brand we have not mentioned, that is great. Go ahead and stick with what works best for your company.

Western Digital and Samsung Overview

Western Digital uses color schemes to differentiate their line of hard drives.

Consumer Models: Blue, Black, Green
Enterprise Models: Red, Purple, Gold

The consumer line focuses on features such as quiet operation, low price per GB, and overall performance. You find these drives in desktops and laptops as well as some lower-cost workstations. Of the consumer drives, the black drives are the most popular because they perform the best, but they also run the hottest and are not as quiet as the blue or green drives. But they provide a lot of drive for the money and have a very good reputation with enthusiasts.

The enterprise line focuses on reliability, larger capacities, and higher performance when used for specific applications such as NAS or data center operation. Red drives are built for use in NAS units, while Purple drives work best in surveillance systems that require excellent write performance. Gold drives are built for reliability and longevity.

Samsung produces a line of consumer drives under their Evo and Pro lines. The Evo line offers a good “bang for the buck,” while the Pro line offers a little more performance and longer warranty.

Like Western Digital, the models in Samsung’s enterprise line offer the highest performance, best reliability, and applications-specific tuning for the most intensive enterprise applications.

Enterprise Drive Features

Enterprise drives cost more than consumer drives, sometimes as much as 3X the price of a consumer model with the same capacity. What do you get for the extra cost? The primary feature of enterprise drives, across all makes and models, is increased reliability. Enterprise drives are built to run in workstations, servers, and storage devices that are operational 24/7.

Western Digital and Samsung use top-quality materials to build their enterprise drives. This helps keep out dust, minimize vibration, and reduce heat. You can purchase drives with high read speeds that work well in storage servers or with high write speeds for those saving large video streams found in video production and surveillance servers.

But the main difference comes down to reliability. You are paying more for a drive that should last longer. If your server runs a RAID configuration, it might not be an inconvenience to swap out a dead drive. Today we see a lot of workstations configured with an SSD for Windows or Linux and a large capacity mechanical drive for project storage. The peace of mind that comes from using an enterprise drive helps mitigate the higher upfront costs.

Warranty

Consumer drives have shorter warranties. Bargain models might have a 1-year warranty. Avoid them. We recommend avoiding any drive, mechanical or SSD, with a warranty shorter than 3 years.

It is unusual to find a drive with a warranty longer than 5 years. If you stick with a reputable company, expect a 3-year warranty on consumer mechanical drives and a 5-year warranty on enterprise models.

Samsung offers a 10-year warranty on their Pro line of consumer drives. Keep in mind that SSDs are more reliable than mechanical drives because they have no moving parts and generate far less heat. If your goal is to build the most reliable server, stick with SSDs if at all possible.

Conclusion

There are not a lot of reasons for laptop and desktop users to use enterprise-grade drives. If you are upgrading your desktop or laptop, stick with a reputable brand such as Western Digital or Samsung, which offer many options and long warranties. Both brands cost a few dollars more than bargain brands you find on Newegg.

If your company risks coming to a stop if your server, database, or application server goes down due to a drive failure, you should consider an enterprise-grade drive such as the Western Digital Gold or Samsung PM series. The increased reliability offsets the costs of employees who are unable to work.

Drives are not as flashy as CPUs or GPUs, but they continue to play an integral part of every desktop, workstation, and server. No component causes more downtime and frustration than a drive when it dies, thanks to the chance of data loss. Purchasing a high-quality drive is a wise investment no matter how you look at it.

View Comments

  • VMware Player is not a Type 1 hypervisor, and therefore does not have better performance than Virtualbox "because it runs directly on the hardware."

  • Yes, a span size of two means that each span is as small as possible. So a span size of two in RAID 100 means that you are actually getting RAID 10 without anything extra (it is the middle RAID 0 that is eliminated.) So the advice is good, basically you always want a span size of two if the option exists. Some controllers cannot handle a RAID 10 large enough to accommodate all attached drives and so larger spans are required. Typically this does not happen until you have at least ~18 drives or so.

  • The one question I have coming out of this results from the conversation that I believe possibly prompted this blog post, namely that in this thread on SpiceWorks:

    http://community.spiceworks.com/topic/548896-raid-10-2-spans-a-cautionary-tale-it-can-happen-to-you

    The recommendation/default for at least one DELL controller model was a span-size of 2, with comments referring to this being referred to as the optimal configuration for larger arrays. Is there any evidence to support this being the optimal configuration? Your blog post, and my (albeit limited) understanding of RAID would suggest that this advice is flawed. Then again, maybe I am misunderstanding something at a fundamental level?

    Furthermore, would there be any benefit to adding in multiple RAID-0 layers above the RAID-100 so that the member size of all arrays involved is kept as small as possible?

  • I like the article, to be honest I've seen many posts on newspapers, magazines and even blogs that praises the open-source as it without being put on glory or hell, just neutral

    I'll like to add some other software like Thunderbird (for email), Git (for developers) and maybe replace Notepad++ with Geany/Gedit/Kate (or the text editor of your preference, yours being the Notepad); otherwise I like your choices and those are apps that I use a lot, even if in my workplace they don't want to replace it

    • Hey Dom, depending on where you're located there are a number of ways you can dispose of VHS tapes. Most thrift shops will take them off your hands, assuming they're actual movies and not simply blank tapes. Another option is to use Greendisk (greendisk.com), which allows you to mail in your old VHS tapes for recycling. Beyond that, there may be some options specific to your location (there are waste recycling facilities that can handle this type of trash all over), a quick Google search might reveal some of them.

  • Hi there, I think your web site may be having internet browser compatibility problems.
    Whenever I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine
    however when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues.
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    • Thanks for letting us know, we really appreciate it. Do you happen to know which version of IE you're using? I know that sometimes the older versions don't cooperate. I can't seem to reproduce the results you're seeing, but we're looking into it. Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.

  • I think you are missing the point entirely here. I have a home with 5 PCs all running same Windows OS version and same versions of Office. MOST of the file data on the machines are copies of same files on other machines: the Windows OS files and Office binaries. I want to backup full system snapshot images (not just photos and music) daily to a NAS on my LAN, or even a headless Windows machine acting as a NAS (like the old Windows Home Server product). I want the bandwidth savings of laptops backing up over wifi to notice that those windows files are already stored and not transmit them over wifi. I also want the total NAS storage of all combined backups reduced so that I can copy the NAS storage to either external drive for offsite storage, or more interesting up to the cloud for redundancy. ISP bandwidth caps, limited upstream bandwidth, and cloud storage annual cost per GB mean that deduplicated backup storage is essential. The cost of additional local storage is NOT the only consideration.

    I don't care about Windows Server's integrated deduplication. The deduplication has to be part of the backup system itself, especially if you are doing cluster or sector level deduplication, to avoid sending the duplicate data over the wire to the data storage in the first place.

    I've been looking at different backup solutions to replace Windows Home Server (a decade-old product that offered deduplication), and your product looked very interesting, but unfortunately the lack of built-in deduplication rules it out for me. I can only imagine how this affects 100-desktop customers when I wont't even consider it for 5-desktop home use.

    • Thank you for your comments. We appreciate all points of view on this topic.

      I agree that ISP bandwidth caps, limited upstream bandwidth, and cloud storage cost per GB show how critical it is to minimize data transmissions offsite. I also believe that much like modems and BETA video tapes, the bandwidth of today is giving way to higher access everywhere. For example, Google Fiber is now available to some of my peers at the office. Cellular LTE and satellite technologies are also increasing bandwidth for small business and home offices. At the same time, our data consumption and data creation is increasing at a rate that may outpace this increased supply of bandwidth. Either way, there are ways to work around data transmission limits.

      One way we help with data transmission over slower networks is we incorporate WAN acceleration and bandwidth scheduling technologies into our offsite replication tools. These allow you to not only get the most efficient use of available bandwidth but to also schedule your data replication during off-peak hours. Another way we help with data transmission is through compression. Deduplication is after all simply another form of data compression which reduces the near side (source) data before it is transmitted over the wire (target).

      In your case, you could use our product to store images on a local volume which has deduplication. You could then replicate data over the wire to offsite storage using ImageManager or some other tool. Many of our customers do this very thing.

      Keep in mind that the deduplication process has to occur at some point: either at the source or at the target. If you wanted to deduplicate your 5 PCs you would be best served with a BDR solution that can read each of those PCs, see the duplicate files on each, and avoid copying those files to storage. In this example, deduplication would occur on your BDR but you're still reading data from each PC over the wire to your BDR. In addition, your BDR would control the index for data stored on a separate volume or perhaps has the storage volume incorporated in the BDR. This creates a single point of failure because if your BDR crashes then the backup images for your 5 PCs wouldn't be recoverable and current backup processes cease.

      At StorageCraft we focus on the recovery. Our philosophy means that we take the smallest fastest backup images we can and then we give you ways to automatically test those images for reliability, compress them into daily/weekly/monthly files according to your retention policy, and replicate those images locally and offsite. This gives you a solid foundation from which to recover those images quickly to almost any new environment. I have yet to see a faster more reliable solution among our competitors.

      Cheers,
      Steven

  • Regarding Shadowprotect desktop:
    I am looking for the following capabilities
    1. Windows 8.1 compatability
    Everything I've examined says Win 8 but nothing about Win 8.1
    2. I want to be able to do the following on an ACER S-3:
    320gb hd with Win 8.1
    create an image of the 320gb drive.
    Install a 120gb drive in the ACER.
    Install the image to the 120gb drive.
    I am assuming that I can boot from the Shadowprotect
    CD, use an external usb connected dock with the 320gb
    image, and successfully install the image from the
    external dock to restore to the 120gb drive installed in the ACER.
    3. Does Shadowprotect take care of setting up the needed
    partition and format for the target drive (120gb in this case)

    I've looked at several of the alternatives to your product
    posing the same questions above and get vague or downright
    misleading answers to my items 1, 2 AND 3 above.

    If I purchase your product will I be able to do what I
    want as stated in items 1,2 and 3 above?

    I have done exactly what I described in items 1,2 and 3
    above for WIN 7 using a product called EZGIG II and am
    pleased with the results. I am looking for the same
    capability for Win 8.1.

    Please avise,
    Joe O'Loughlin

    • Hello Joe,

      Thank you for your questions. I'm sorry that other vendors have disappointed you with vague or misleading answers. Fortunately I have good news for you.

      1) Yes, we are compatible with Microsoft Windows 8.1 technology. The ShadowProtect ReadMe file contains information about version compatibility (near the bottom). Here's a link to the ReadMe file stating that we are compatible with Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Enterprise.

      2) Yes, you can resize the image of a larger disk to fit on a smaller disk. This is typical of SSD upgrades where the less expensive and larger HDD is replaced with a smaller and faster SSD drive. Please keep in mind that we cannot shrink a partition past the data written on the volume. Here are some articles on shrinking disk volumes that you can read in our knowledgebase:

      Shrink volume size: Removing free space from an image.
       
      Alternative Methods to Shrinking volume size for your drives.
       
      Why can't ShadowProtect shrink the volume further?

      Also, I find that our StorageCraft CrossPlatform Recovery Environment tools seem to shrink a disk volume the best. If you purchase ShadowProtect I would recommend that you download the Recovery Environment and burn it to a USB key or CD/DVD to assist you in the process.

      3) Yes, ShadowProtect takes care of the needed partitioning and format for the target drive. Please keep in mind that if this is an SSD drive, these drives typically have a manufacturer's disk utility you should run to properly condition the drive first. When you run the Restore Wizard you will be able to see your target drive and properly format and initialize it within ShadowProtect.

      Lastly, you can download an evaluation copy of our software and test the first two of these three questions: namely Windows 8.1 compatibility and shrinking your disk volume. You will need to purchase a licensed copy of the software to be able to restore to new hardware, but once you do you'll have a reliable backup solution to continually protect your system and data. I use a continuous incremental backup on my work and home computers to ensure no matter what happens I will always be able to recover my important Windows systems and data.

      Cheers,
      Steven

  • Hi Steven
    at 6 august 2013 you wrote:
    " Another release will have the complete tools for backing up and recovering both Linux and Windows systems. I can tell you that this later release will be out before the end of the year."

    But now we are already in 2014.

    when we can have this "complete tools for backing up and recovering both Linux and Windows systems" ?

    Thanks

    • Hello Carlo,

      Yes, you have pointed out the travails of being both a Techie and a Marketer, namely predicting software release dates. We both know how fast technology changes these days. What with Microsoft updates, new hardware (and the associated drivers), the constant flow of Linux distros, and StorageCraft's penchant for getting everything perfectly aligned before a release and my job as a Technical Marketer job becomes nigh impossible. I apologize for getting the date wrong, and will post more information about the upcoming software release as soon as I get it.

      Thank you for keeping me honest.

      Cheers,
      Steven

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