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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

  • Hello,

    I'm just wondering if any of you have actually tested this scenario in the end and come to any conclusion since this article was published.

    Thank you!

    • Hello Octavian,

      Thank you for asking. To be honest I haven't tested this theory, though it's been on my "to do" list since the question first came up. Have any of our other readers tried storing backup images on a Server 2012 deduplicated volume? I would be interested in at least two qualities of this test: 1) how much storage can be freed using this process (as a percentage of the original data size), and 2) is their any discernible difference in I/O speed compared with a data volume that isn't managed? I'm interested in your comments.

      Cheers!

  • you missed so many important factors. just don't bother writing an article like this if you don't provide all the information, its far too dumbed down. you have probably lead astray some poor network/system admin who will choose to back up to disk and sacrifice his companies data retention for cost. you don't know the cost of the average company to lose recoverable data.

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for your comments. Yep, there is so much to talk about with this topic. What information would you like to see in more detail? We're always looking to talk about the tech that interests our readers as well as what interests us.

      Cheers!

  • This appears to no longer work on their 6.1 and 6.1.1 versions. I tried FAT32 and NTFS partitions as well.

    It appears they switched to some sort of linux boot to do this.

    • Hello Greg,

      Yes, there have been some updates to the process since I wrote this article in March of this year. We now have the StorageCraft Recovery Environment Builder for Windows which does most of the heavy lifting. This means I don't have to come up with creative solutions using unsupported third-party software to create a bootable USB, I can make a bootable USB natively with the Recovery Environment Builder.

      Some of the benefits of using the builder include the ability to add custom drivers to the recovery environment during the build process, faster boot times because each build is language specific, and the builder is able to leverage the latest Windows PE (currently Windows 8) with the latest Microsoft drivers and security fixes.

      The Recovery Environment Builder creates ISO's using the Windows ADK you have locally installed. These ISO files can be used to boot a virtual machine or they can be burned to CD/DVD or USB using the Recovery Environment Builder application. StorageCraft also provides an ISO Tool utility which comes free with StorageCraft ShadowProtect. This tool can rip, burn, author and mount/dismount ISO files and makes a handy addition to your IT toolkit. This ISO Tool can also be used to burn bootable CD/DVD drives using the ISO created by the Recovery Environment Builder.

      Basically we're trying to make your recovery process as easy and fast as possible, which is why the Recovery Environment Builder now creates customizable ISO's in several "flavors" of the recovery environment (e.g. IT Edition) and burns those ISO's to your available removable media. The builder application is your all-in-one solution for creating a bootable ShadowProtect recovery environment.

      If you want more about the ISO tool utility, check out this article: http://www.storagecraft.com/blog/the-best-things-in-life-are-free/

      Cheers!

  • I have a question with the following...your use of the Word "Host" in between the *stars* (see below)

    5. Regularly check the virtual machines’ event logs for VSS errors as they can indicate problems with the backup. This is good to do because when the *host* machine calls for a backup of the VM, the VM is asked to pause processes while ShadowProtect takes the snapshot

    Don't you mean "Guest"? As per you reasoning in the above statements, the "Host" is only backing up the OS drive. The ShadowProtect Client, that's installed on the VM "Guest" machine, calls for the backup itself, not the Hyper-V "Host".

    • You’re correct, we were referring to the guest. But, after further review, we noticed that the sentence you pointed out in step five doesn’t quite fit with the remainder of the post, so we’ve removed it. It is, however, still important to check the virtual machines’ event logs for VSS errors-- this is just a standard best practice to make sure everything is running smoothly.

  • The price of a microlized hypervisor is in case of Hyper-V, that it is to large to get fully loaded into the RAM. This could have backdraws if you lost the contact to the boot volume. I found an impressive demonstration about this topic @Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8ZF0ez0iH0
    In case of this, it seems VMware has still the better product.

  • Well done to Guy & Casey it's an excellent eBook, well worth reading and well worth keeping a copy close to hand!

  • I have no bone in this debate. However, I have used both agentless and agent based backup solutions in my 14 yr IT career. I am also a Certified Ethical Hacker and Certified Penetration Testet. That distinction is important to my comments below:

    1- The statement made above "It’s important to keep in mind that in order to take a true disk image for complete, fast bare metal recovery, something has to be installed on the machine." is false. This can be done by agentless, remote capability. I have done this myself.

    2- I have used the security holes proclaimed above to not exist to break into systems using the usually weak backup passwords. The machine was in fact running shadow protect. Yes the holes exist, yes it is up to the local IT folks to keep that in mind.

    • Hello David,

      Good points, and we respect your professional opinion. It's true that the perfect system has not been created yet, meaning that every system is imperfect in some way. With this in mind we are attempting to represent the "best" solution based upon the Microsoft Windows architecture and philosophy. Of course, this solution is limited to the underlying OS architecture and any of its inherent weaknesses. You have aptly pointed out one of those weaknesses yourself: that of weak backup passwords. If an administrator chooses not to implement the strongest passwords at their disposal then the administrator presents an opening for unethical and malicious behavior. It should be noted that this is not the fault of the software, but of the human managing the software. The software may be designed perfectly but implemented or secured in a manner which allows for errors or weaknesses.

      With regards to agent-based backups, it is Microsoft's intent that their Windows OS be managed (in this respect, backed up) using agents. They themselves use agents to manage Windows Server backup processes. We understand that it is still possible to create a disk image with an agent-less backup; however, Microsoft's propensity towards agents warrants the use of an agent-based solution. In addition, there are a number of advantages that an agent-based solution offers over an agent-less solution. For example, an agent-based solution (if implemented correctly) can operate at a low level of the OS not available to injected or remote procedure processes. In the case of StorageCraft's ShadowProtect agent this allows us to directly track changes to the disk and to function as a driver within the Windows OS resulting in fast and reliable backup images. Other systems which inject agents typically have to traverse the file system looking for changes first before they can begin processing a backup, resulting in added overhead and resources.

      As you've pointed out, both solutions can work. And to add to your comments I will point out that the effectiveness of either an agent-based or agent-less solution really depends on the underlying code and how it is implemented. So I guess we come full circle back to the beginning where we both agree that software is only as good as the person designing/using the software. We feel we've built a rock solid agent-based solution founded on Microsoft's platform but designed and implemented by our amazing developers to give our customers fast and reliable backup images which are easy to use and manage. Hopefully this message comes across in our products as well as our literature.

      I would like to personally thank you for taking the time to contribute to our forum. The life of a "white hat" has always intrigued me as you guys get to use operating systems in ways that many of us can only imagine. And I think we're grateful for your honest commentary.

      Cheers!

  • For a "lover of words", you sure missed this:

    "The brain is so complex that we’re a long way from discovering all of its mysteries, and we might never actually know how much space has."

    Read it slowly...

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