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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.

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