September 9, 2011

Should I buy a Big Hard Drive or a Little Hard Drive?

I mentioned the other day that I'm looking to buy an external hard drive for our home use.   I plan to setup the drive to automatically backup our primary computer.   My first inclination was to get a 500GB drive since that is more than enough for my current needs.   I found a Seagate model for $50.  However there are also 1TB drives for around $70.   If I bought that then I would get twice as much storage for just $20 more.   I also even found a sale deal for Seagate 2TB drives for $80.   That would give me 4 times as much storage for only $30 more.

So what drive should I buy?    Should I buy the cheapest drive that meets my immediate needs?    Or should I pay more and get the bigger drives and have a lot of room to expand for the future?

500GB - cheaper and meets my current needs:   The 500GB drive would be more than enough for now.   Our computer only has around 250GB in space on it so a 500GB drive would be double what I need for backup purposes.  I could upgrade our computer in the next year or two since its pretty old right now.  But I think the 500GB would still be good enough for a while even if I do upgrade the computer.  Our storage requirements aren't that high. 

500GB would be plenty for now.    I expect it should easily suffice for at least a couple years if not longer.

2TB - Better cost / size bargain and will meet our needs longer :  If I were to buy the 2TB drive (1TB = 1000GB) on sale then I would be getting an extra 1.5TB for just $30 more.   That is a very good bargain for that much additional storage.   The 500GB drive is 10¢ per GB and the 2TB drive is just 4¢ per GB.   The 2TB drive is a much better bargain in this respect.

Of course I wouldn't buy the 2TB if I will never need the extra 1.5TB of space.   But eventually I'm sure I can use that extra space in years down the road.   That will keep me from having to get yet another bigger drive 2, 3 or 5 years from now.    It would seem that paying 60% more to get 4 times as much storage is a great bargain so I was tempted to get the 2TB drive and declare it a great deal.   But then I looked closely at the cost of hard drives over time and reminded myself of just how fast the cost drops for this technology.

I'm now looking at these 2 options:

1) Spend $50 today and get 500GB which will last 2-3 years.   Then 2-3 years from now buy another drive to get 1TB or more to meet future needs.
2) Spend $80 today and get 2TB that should last 4+ years easily.

Essentially the question boils down to :
Do I buy a cheaper smaller drive every 2 years or a larger drive every 4 years?

If the price of the item were going up over time then it would make sense to buy the bigger one today I think.
Say for example that harddrives went up in cost 10% a year and so 2 years from now the 500GB drive was $60.50.   I'd then be spending    $50 and then $60 over 4 years instead of $80 today.  That would make the purchase of the larger drive now the clear winner.

However hard drives drop in price pretty fast over time.  The 120GB drive I bought a few years ago was $110.   If I had bought a 600GB+ external drive 3 years ago I'd have probably spent more like $175 or 200.
In hind sight if I'd bought a big drive with lots of extra storage then I'd have been spending more than the $110 I've spent plus the $50 I'm looking at now.

Since hard drives drop in cost so fast I think it makes a lot more sense to buy only what you need for the short term use rather than buying a LOT more than what you need just to get a bargain price.   The prices in 3-4 years will be a much better bargain then buying the extra capacity today.

There are some other key items that the cost drops significantly over time.   Most electronics are in that category in general.  Computers, televisions, smart phones, ipods, etc all tend to go down in price or at least give you much better product in future years for the same price.   Theres numerous examples of this and I'm sure you're familiar with the phenomenon.   That $800 computer you're thinking of buying today probably be sold for $250 in 2-3 years.    The ipod you get today will be half as good as the model sold in a couple years.   My 55" TV costs 50% more than a 60" TV would cost today.

Bottom Line : For hard drives and other electronics I think it generally makes sense to buy the cheaper option that will meet your needs today then upgrade in the future when you need more instead of buying the better and more expensive item today and upgrading less frequently.


  1. I think with computer accessories, I'd go with cheaper/smaller now. You need to refresh those anyway as the technology is changing fast and I've had friends who've had their external drives crap out on them over time.

    Plus, with storage, a lot of people are moving to web services. Physical hard drives may be a thing of the past in 2 years..who knows. Save the extra $30 for something else.

  2. First Gen,

    Thats a good point about storage via web services. If you only want a few GB of storage then thats easy to get for free. Online storage is not as cheap right now as buying a drive. Amazon Cloud would charge $500/year for 500GB and Carbonite backup is $59 a year for unlimited backup of one computer. Depends on your needs something like Carbonite might work fine and even be better than a local drive. So right now these services might be an option or might be over priced. BUT in 2-3 years I'd expect that online backup will be even cheaper and that might be the better route in the future for most people.


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