Every Consumers Guide to Building A Reliable Desktop 5

Building A Reliable And Practical Desktop Computer System (part 5)

At last, we are almost at the end of our custom desktop building journey.  If you are still with me, then you will get my last bit of advice about disk drives in general.

I won’t make this portion of the blog very long – it doesn’t have to be.

The disk drives of today are very simple to install and configure.  All you have to know is just a few things. I won’t go into great detail, but I will give you enough information to help you quickly and easily decide on a hard drive that you need for your build.

There aren’t that many disk drive manufacturers these days either.  This is very true for hard disk drives. As for S.S.Ds (solid state drives), there are a larger handful of manufacturers.  Don’t sweat it.

Any older technology like EIDE and IDE will not be discussed.  If you are still using EIDE and IDE hard drives you can find info from sites that deal with the subject.  My advice to you will be to get rid of these EIDE and IDE drives as soon as possible.

The support for these old hard drive standards is very poor to non-existent.  You might have better luck with an O.S like Linux for EIDE and IDE. With Windows, the level of support for these old hard drives depend on a variety of factors.  If they don’t get detected or don’t work as they used to, then you have been warned.

Personally, I stuck to EIDE and IDE hard drives for a while longer than I should have and it made things very complicated like purchasing odd adaptors and going out of my way to install old outdated drivers.  Will the latest Windows O.S have drivers and work well with EIDE and IDE? Sure, in some cases it will do a great job and you won’t notice the difference that much except for the speed. In the long run, it is not worth it.  In some cases, it will just slow down your system.

Hard Disks For Your Money

Hard disk drives these days are getting pretty large.  At the time of this blog, hard disk drives have reached a density of 8TB – and possibly still getting larger in storage density.  We talk about SATA hard drives mostly because they are the new de facto standard for any computer build these days.

The number of platters remain the same for hard drives.  The platters range from 1 to 5 depending on the hard drives storage density.  Most drive manufacturers are trying to make a hard drive with as few platters as possible.  The order of install for any new and existing hard drive is automatically done with straight to motherboard connections.

The new SATA technology makes hard drive installations a breeze.  

The hard drives configure themselves.  The speeds for data retrieval from these modern hard disks are quite impressive.

With the advent of S.S.D drives (solid state drives), regular hard disks have been displaced from being the choice as the main drive in most system builds today.  Surely enough, there are many systems that use hard disks to boot an operating system, but more and more are adopting S.S.Ds as their main drive of choice for O.S installations.

The main reason for using SSD drives as the boot drive is clear: S.S.D drives are considerably faster than traditional hard disk drives.  

Modern S.S.D drives are virtually immune to the ill effects of heavy data writing – mitigated great that is.

For older S.S.Ds it would cut the durability and lifespan of the S.S.D really short- an issue that was a big NO not long ago – not anymore.

What does this all mean to the regular average joe building his practical and budget conscious system today?  

If you want to make your system for responsive and boost its performance, replacing your traditional platter-based hard drive with and S.S.D will improve your system performance tremendously.  

Even old laptops that slow down to a crawl with traditional hard drives will get a much needed boost in performance and get a new lease in its “ computer life”.  Installing a high-performance SSD drive will make an even greater impact to system performance.

How do you know what a great high-performance SSD drive is?  It will be up to you to do some research, read reviews, and compare read/write speeds of several hard drives to see how each stack up against the other.  

For most users, frankly, almost ANY SSD will make a great contribution to the speed, performance, and responsiveness of the overall system you are upgrading, salvaging, and rebuilding.   

Hard Disks 101 

There are only a handful of hard drives today to choose from.  This is all thanks to corporations buying out other corporations for the privilege of monopoly and domination.  

To that end, the remaining hard disk companies are able to single handedly dictate the price of hard drives.  The only other technology that keeps hard disk manufacturers in check are the S.S.D drive manufacturers.

Hard disk all use the SATA interface with a variety of them going from SATA I all the way to SATA III (at this level you get 10gb/s on PCIe 2 and 16gb/s on PCIe 3) at this point in time.  That’s pretty fast. We all know that these speeds will soon be surpassed by a new SATA standard coming up next. New hard drives are all at SATA III unless you bought an old “new” hard drive from some obscure computer component store that had one sitting around somewhere.

Hard drive speeds these days are pretty much set.  In fact, some hard disk manufacturers for consumer hard drives no longer list the rpm ( revolutions per minute) of the hard disk because it is not longer that consequential.  For that matter rpm is now lower because it helps the hard disks run cooler.

Hard disk do heat up.  It is no longer the CPU and your super awesome gaming video card taking all the credit for the overall heat produced in your system.  Take that all you hard drives out there!

The track density for traditional hard drives is extremely high these days. Manufacturers are trying to provide more storage (squeezing more tracks on the same surface area) using the same number of platters or fewer.  It is so packed that, as a consequence, seek times have significantly improved for read and write making platter-based drives really fast.

Moving from one track to the next to read or write is consequently much faster because the gap between tracks is increasingly smaller as hard drive storage becomes more dense.

That’s enough about hard disk drives for the regular consumer (if you are just a bit curious).  

Suffice to say that you NO longer need that much technical knowledge to pick a good performance hard drive.  It is hard to go with the wrong drive these days.

I do have one word of warning.  I may have a bias towards Seagate hard drives and I probably do.  If your budget can help it, STAY AWAY from Seagate drives. Having said that, most hard drives are manufactured more or less the same way (in terms of technique, materials, and technology).

The difference in hard drives will be mostly in the Q.A (quality assurance) process the disk manufacturer has in place to ensure that not too many lemons leave the factory unnoticed.  If you MUST buy a Seagate, make sure you buy the higher end drives. Even then I still don’t trust Seagate – it’s a long story.

The manufacturers that I trust are (not in any particular order): Western Digital, Hitachi, and Toshiba for hard disk drives.

Here are my impressions of each hard drive manufacturer and their products.

Hitachi…

has been rated for a while as the manufacturer that makes the most reliable consumer hard drives.  They are expensive compared to drives from other brands but are proven to make the most reliable hard drives on the market.  They inherited their technology from I.B.M, the maker of the DeskStar brand of drives.

Toshiba…  

also makes good drives.  I happen to own a few of them and seem to work fine.  They are fairly new to the hard disk drive business compared to the other hard disk manufacturers.  They acquired portions of hard drive technologies from Hitachi and the current hard drives offered appear to basically use the same design as Hitachi drives.  

In fact, some people believe Toshiba hard drives are merely rebranded Hitachi drives.  This remains to be seen when they release their 4TB hard drives which will include new designs from Toshiba.  Prices are reasonable depending on where you buy it and when.

Western Digital…

has a very nice selection of drives.  They operate as a separate company even though they are owned by Seagate.  However, Seagate’s ownership seems to have left Western Digital unaffected.  They consistently make better and more reliable drives overall compared to Seagate.  I still have IDE W.D. drives back from the early 1990’s that still work to this day.

Western Digital offers a colour coding system to indicate the performance and optimizations of each type of hard drive for the application intended.  These colour codes are not just for looks. It really helps to choose the right drive for the job. With Western digital, the colour codes can help you select the proper drive to use.  I’ll go in detail later on about these colour coded drives.

Seagate…

is, in my opinion, the worst hard drive there is on the market nowdays.  The also have the lowest prices of any hard drive manufacturer.

These look like a great bargain, but Seagate’s Q.A is questionable.  If you must buy one, you could probably buy it for an application/game hard drive.  Use it to run programs and throw it away if it breaks down. Just don’t save anything valuable with it.

The Colour Codes Of Western Digital Drives

For the moment, Western Digital has settled for the following colours to label drives by purpose and performance: blue, red, purple, black, yellow/gold.

For the purpose of building a mainstream computer system (the practical,stable,and on budget type), you only need to be concerned mostly with the colours blue, red, purple, and black.

The blue drives from Western Digital are the mainstream drives.  They are good all around drives to use. This will make a good drive to install and run your Windows O.S. and run your everyday desktop applications as well.  Speed and durability is average. Price is good for the features. Best bang for the buck. If in doubt about what hard drive you need to get things going, blue branded drives from Western Digital is a good place to start.  

The red drives are targeted mainly for NAS (network attached storage).  If you want to build your own external file storage drive as an home LAN file server, these drives will be the perfect fit.  If you want to use it on your computer, use it for file storage, media backups, backups, and streaming.

These red drives are nicely made to be energy efficient, run cooler, and have features to reduce vibration.  They are also built for greater durability. Great all around drive for data storage and media. I don’t recommend using these for your O.S. install – a bit costly for that. These drives are more expensive but are also better built for reliability and come with a 5 year warranty.

The Purple drives are drives made and optimized for for surveillance purposes.  They are optimized for writes and are slow for reading. If you can get your hands on these drives at a good price (when they are priced about the same as the Blue drives), these Purple drives might be useful for archiving purposes – in my opinion.  This means you can use them to store data for the long term that you don’t need that often (the kind of data you would store on DVDs).

Data stored on a hard drive will usually survive a long period of time without suffering media corruption.  I use these Purple drives to archive data sometimes. They are well built. They are made to run almost non-stop to record video footage for surveillance purpose.  That makes them pretty sturdy, don’t you think? Use at your own discretion.

For the majority of cases, I recommend people to use a combination of blue Drives and Red drives from Western Digital to build a reliable and balanced system at a good price.  Use Western Digital Red drives to store your data and use Blue drives to install your OS and run your applications.

There is also the Western Digital black drive.  Western Digital sells these black drives as high performance drives.  They combine durability and high performance with a matching price tag.

Depending on how many high applications you are running in your system, you may also want to consider an S.S.D drive instead.  

What do I mean?  If you have a lot of applications that you want to load fast and perform really well, the Black drive from Western Digital might be the drive for you.  However, if you have a few applications that require very high performance, a smaller S.S.D might fit the bill.

Western Digital’s Black drive will run all your most demanding applications admirably, but will never outperform a solid state drive.

It is really all about how much value you can get while being cost effective without sacrificing too much performance.  If you have a lot of applications, this also means you need more storage space. A high performance hard drive like Western Digital’s black will be more cost effective and offer sufficient speed to handle the demands.  Otherwise, with fewer demanding applications, you should always try to purchase a smaller and relatively cheaper S.S.D for high performance.

The Best State Is Solid State

For an S.S.D (solid state drives), I usually buy from (not in any particular order): Kingston, Adata, Crucial, Sandisk.

Public opinion puts Samsung at the forefront of all other SSD manufacturers for performance and overall quality.  I personally do not buy Samsung drives because they are a bit costly for my budget and I have purchased and used all the other aforementioned SSD brands with great success.

Some people are very specific and have extremely high standards for the performance in their choice of SSD drives and will strictly buy from the top manufacturers like Samsung and other similar companies.  

The performance of most SSD drives is already very good regardless of the manufacturer.  I don’t tend to make a big fuss out of it. I make it my criteria to buy from well-known manufacturers with good history that can offer good price for the performance – which is the main focus and intention for our purposes.

There is not much I need to say about this category of drives.  I really can’t say anything bad about these drives. Most of the name brands make good drives.  You do get some lemons here and there, but they are really good overall.

My favourite brands (and I personally use these) are: Crucial, Adata, Kingston, Sandisk, and AMD (these are rare).  These manufacturers are not listed in any preferential order. I don’t think AMD makes its own drives. AMD rebrands the drive and sources it from another known SSD manufacturer – a company named Galt.

A lot of users consider Samsung and Intel as the best and highest performing drives on the market.  I don’t buy these top brands because I find the prices hard to justify. On a good day, you may see Samsung drives on sale.  If and when you do, buy them.

On specs, the Samsung drives seem to be very high performing.  Samsung tends to shine on both performance and reliability. Public opinion has it that Intel SSD drives are very reliable.  As of late, Western Digital is making some significant headway with SSD drives that rival in quality to the ones made by Samsung.

The good news is that S.S.D drives are dropping in price very often.  We are gradually getting more storage for the price and this puts significant pressure on traditional hard disk manufacturers.

I only use S.S.D drives for one thing: I use SSDs to run my operating system, be it Windows or Linux.  I often buy the smallest SSD drive for the price to install my Linux (Linux doesn’t need that big a drive somehow), and I buy the largest SSD drive for the price to run my Windows O.S.  

Worried about SSD drives being worn too much by excessive writes from paging or swapping?  Worry not. Surely enough, the solid state drives are not as hardy and durable as hard disks for writes, but the modern SSD they will do just fine.  When you look at the specs, it will say just how many writes an SSD will endure before experiencing failure.

Rest assured that the demand from the average computer user will almost never reach or generate as many writes, and your SSD will be just fine.  In fact, you’ll probably find yourself upgrading to a new SSD long before you even reach that many writes. Let is write away and use you SSD to your heart’s content.

At this point in time, the easiest decision to make for any component for your custom system IS the hard drive.  The traditional hard drive is very mature technology overall. Unless you do something really bad on purpose, it is very hard to make a BAD decision.

For your SSD, the decision is just as easy if not easier.  If you stick to a known manufacturer with a decent track record, you’ll almost always end up with a high performance drive no matter what you buy.

Remember about firmware upgrades.  Depending on the situation, performing a firmware upgrade is not as critical when it comes to traditional drives.  There is always the exception to the rule, but it is quite rare in most cases.

Firmware upgrades are much more critical for SSD drives.  Make sure to go to the manufacturer’s website and check for the latest firmware.  It is also imperative that you check forums and other online resources about the pros and cons of upgrading the firmware on your SSD drive.  

An SSD drive is entirely reliant on the firmware for providing the essential functions needed to emulate the behaviour (the magic behind the scene) for the storage mapping of a traditional hard drive.   

The SSD firmware is the key that allows an SSD to be accepted by your computer as “just another traditional hard drive”.  Any firmware defect could easily render the SSD unusable, cause compatibility issues, and even cause data corruption. Do you best to check, update, and install the best firmware for your SSD drive to ensure optimal reliability and performance.  

Let’s do a quick recap of my checklist when I decide to buy a new hard drive (I use mostly Western Digital these days).  You can replace the drives I mention with comparable drives from other disk manufacturers of your choice.

Use:

  • Blue drives for O.S or applications ( I use it for regular applications.  Price is good vs performance)
  • Red drives for data of any kind (safe, durable, very good performance for its purpose)
  • Black drives if you need something that needs very high performance or quick access times.  Sometimes you can use an S.S.D instead. It all depends. You’ll have to decide. Remember about my thoughts on this from all the previous paragraphs.
  • Use an SSD if you want REALLY great performance for your games or O.S ( I use S.S.Ds for all my O.S installs).  I want my O.S to be very responsive. I let swapping take place with the S.S.Ds as well.

Swapping can really slow down O.S responsiveness.  

Allowing swapping to take place on a really fast drive (like an SSD), the overall performance of your system will improve simply by mitigating the negative effect caused when swapping takes place, which O.Ses do often.  

In Conclusion…

If you managed to get this far, I think you will find this guide generic enough to use for most of your custom desktop builds.

This is really a guide for general things to consider and what look for when building a system.. It is not meant as a “definitive bible”.

When in doubt and riddled with a multitude of decisions, use these suggestions to help you weed out ideas that are too costly and impractical that might make a system more costly than your intended purpose: to build a mainstream budget-oriented and stable computer system that is as future proof as you can make it.

For anything more specific, there is always youtube, which is filled with step by step instructions.

For your big idea or top down planning process when building a system, these suggestions would make a great starting point.

I hope that this guide remains as evergreen as I tried to make it.  I will try to update it to keep it as relevant as I can.

Going back to basics is what I often do when I get stuck with something or when I consider a new project.  This is a going back to basics guide for building custom desktops computer systems.

Once again, discretion and common sense is of utmost importance.  

Enjoy your next upgrade or custom system building.  Hopefully this guide will make the job easier for most of you out there.  

Leave comments below if you have any questions or have something you want to add or say about this blog.  

Here are some drives to start your project.

Traditional hard drives:

Western Digital Blue

1TB (good size for an O.S install)

3TB 4TB 6TB

Western Digital Red

1TB  (would make a good portable external backup drive with proper enclosure)

3TB 4TB 6TB 10TB (all good sizes for data storage, NAS)

Western Digital Purple (really mean for surveillance use, but could serve as archive drives I.M.H.O)

3TB 4TB 6TB 8TB (recommending large size drives from the start since we are thinking about archiving data in large amounts and reliably)

Western Digital Black (high performance hard drive.  Can be used for almost any purpose. They are pricey.)

1TB  750GB  500GB

For those of you who are Seagate fans: (Ironwolf Pro is higher end that I think should be more reliable.  Don’t try the higher but not lower than this Ironwolf). For storing large amounts of programs/applications that need a lot of cheap storage (not critical data).  

Use for things that you can easily recover or reinstall.  For instance, maybe if you have a very large number of games you want to install and want acceptable speed performance.

4TB 6TB 8TB 10TB 12TB 14TB

 

S.S.D drives: (good O.S drive or to run games)

Crucial 500GB   Crucial 1TB   Crucial 250GB  Crucial 2TB

Kingston 120GB  Kingston 240GB  Kingston 480GB  Kingston 980

Sandisk 120GB  Sandisk 240GB  Sandisk 480GB  Sandisk 980GB

Sandisk 1TB

Samsung 250GB  Samsung 500GB  Samsung 2TB  Samsung 1TB

Samsung 4TB

 

Leave comments below if you have any questions or have something you want to add or say about this blog.

Are you ready to start that next system build?  Why not? With this starting guide and good research, you’ll be on your why to that upgrade or system rebuilding you’ve been thinking about for a while.

Now, are you ready??  Of course! Let’s get started. Good luck!

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