When it comes to PC gaming, it’s easy to forget hard drives since they aren’t as sexy as other parts and are much more interchangeable. And yet, they are one of the most important things to take into consideration. The storage you have available will determine how much of your favorite games and media you can have at once, and the speed of that storage will determine how quickly it loads for you.
In this article, we’re going to tackle everything you need to know about hard drives and help you find the best HDD for gaming. (At least, the best one for you.) We’ll be covering everything from cheap HDDs to SSHDs, so stay tuned!
How To Buy The Best Hard Drive For You
If you aren’t familiar with PC hardware or PC gaming in general, you may be a little in the dark going through this article. Don’t worry, we’re here to answer any questions you might have– either in this section or in the comments below– while searching for the best storage for your gaming PC.
Average Game Sizes and Storage Capacity
First and foremost, let’s talk average game sizes, to put things in perspective.
Your typical AAA modern game will be anywhere from 25-50 GB on its own. Some may even go higher than that, but few, if any, ever breach 100 GB. Let’s average things out a little bit and say that you can fit three modern games in your average 100 GB of space.
This means that each terabyte of storage equals roughly 30 games… that is if all of your games are AAA and 3D. Lower-budget indie games, especially 2D games, will take much much less space, as will last-gen and older AAA games. Truth be told, 30 games to a terabyte is closer to a worst-case scenario than an average, and if you can afford to buy that many games to begin with you can afford a bigger hard drive.
Below, we’re going to list common drive sizes and what they’re good for.
This is for the starting budget gamer or casual gamer. You don’t have a massive Steam library built up, you don’t play many games at all, or all the games you play are smaller indie titles. This will satisfy your needs until you start filling your game library, but hopefully by that point, you can afford to step up to a larger storage drive. Otherwise, you’ll need to delete some stuff to make room.
This is one of the most common hard drive sizes, especially if you’re trying to buy cheap. 1TB will hold a fairly generous assortment of games, even if you have a large Steam backlog. However, this will begin to show its limits eventually, especially as games continue to balloon in file size.
This is another one of the most common hard drive sizes and is generally where you find the best bang for your buck. Even if you exclusively play modern games and buy them on a regular basis, it’ll take quite a while to fill a drive of this size to capacity… unless you’re also doing frequent video recording or media downloads.
3TB (3000GB) or higher
This is the high end of hard drives, and you don’t typically see hard drives much bigger than this. (At least, not in the consumer space– server-grade hard drives are different, and can end up getting quite a bit larger than this.)
If you plan on having your gaming PC for a very long time and don’t intend on upgrading it any time soon, 3 TB or more is a great way to make sure that storage is the least of your worries for the foreseeable future.
What are SSHDs?
SSHDs, or Solid State Hybrid Drives, are a hybrid between Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). They are overwhelmingly HDDs, but with small SSDs built-in as a cache to allow faster access to frequently-used content and an across-the-board speed boost. (SSDs are a topic for another article entirely but know that they are much faster than any HDD… and much more expensive.)
For the most part, this truthfully won’t have the same impact as a proper SSD, and it will make your mostly-standard HDD more expensive. If you want to find a middle ground between the two standards, though, this is probably your best bet.
Form Factors and Why They Matter
In this section, we’re going to go over common form factors, what they’re compatible with, and what limitations they might have.
2.5-inch drives are significantly smaller than 3.5-inch drives, and most commonly seen in laptops and gaming consoles. 2.5-inch drives are also the go-to choice for external hard drives. In addition to HDDs, 2.5-inch enclosures are also often used for SATA SSDs.
2.5-inch drives do come with a notable downside: lower RPM. Because of physical limitations inherent to smaller hard drives, 2.5-inch drives can only achieve 5400 RPM, as opposed to the desktop standard of 7200 RPM. We’ll explain the difference this makes a bit later.
3.5 Inch Drives
3.5-inch drives are the standard hard drive size, and usually seen in typical desktop PCs. They are much larger and heavier than 2.5-inch drives, but can also achieve much higher RPM: 7200 RPM. Outside of consumer hard drives, some server drives can reach even higher RPM numbers, but those are generally being replaced by SSDs these days.
RPM and Cache
RPM is a measure of Rotations Per Minute, and it corresponds closely to read/write speed. The higher your RPM, the faster your drive will operate when reading, writing, copying, or deleting files.
5400 RPM is most commonly seen in 2.5-inch drives. As stated prior, these are typically used in consoles and laptops, and now you know that this does come with a performance penalty.
Fortunately for 2.5-inch drive users, the addition of SSHDs (like the FireCuda listed in the article above) and SSDs greatly improve the speeds possible on smaller drives.
7200 RPM is seen on full-sized desktop hard drives. This is the ideal for any consumer hard drive since it will allow the drive to reach its maximum read/write performance potential.
7200 RPM SSHDs will enjoy an even further performance benefit.
In layman’s terms, hard drive cache, or disk buffer, temporarily holds data while the hard drive physically moves around data.
As long as you have a standard cache size– 64 MB or higher– you’re good here. Smaller cache sizes are okay and expected on drives smaller than 2TB. SSHDs tend to have higher cache sizes in order to further increase speed, but for standard 7200 RPM HDDs this number doesn’t matter as much.