What is the best drive for your NAS?

We make no secret of the fact that we are a big proponent of an SSD for every PC. But the added value of really fast storage in your NAS is very limited for most consumers and solid state storage is expensive in large capacities. So we went looking for the best 4 TB hard drive for your NAS.

Basically, it's the really competitive price per gigabyte that makes hard drives still so popular. So we don't find it very strange that drives with 4 TB storage are currently the most popular in the price comparisons. Per gigabyte you pay for a 1TB drive, regardless of brand, almost double as for a 3TB or 4TB model. It should come as no surprise to anyone that such small drives have fallen out of favor.

In this comparative test, we focus specifically on drives for use in a NAS system. Each of the three remaining hard drive manufacturers (Hitachi Global Storage Technologies is owned by Western Digital) has marketed specific series for this target group. Although they are all standard 3.5-inch SATA drives (after all, that is the form factor for the majority of all NAS systems), we discovered significant differences between the five models tested in practice.

Especially for nose

While the technical differences between drives for computers and NAS systems are minimal — fodder for heated debate for engineers — we should treat them differently. For example, a NAS disk is often on 24/7 and we have to weigh power consumption more heavily than with a disk in a computer that is turned on occasionally or that functions as external storage via USB. Performance must also be weighed differently: the data from your NAS reaches your computer, tablet or phone via the network and the chance is very small that you currently have a NAS (let alone a home network) that is faster than 1 Gbit/s, which is needed to get the most out of the disks. Each of these five drives can more than fill that maximum throughput, making the added value of faster hard drives something for a small niche of NAS owners.

Noise and energy consumption

Three elements determine the modern hard disk: speed, noise production and power consumption. Because a NAS is 'always on', we weigh the power consumption heavily in this test, and specifically the power consumption at rest. The rule of thumb we use is that 1 watt costs you about 2 euros in electricity all year round. A 4bay NAS with the most economical drives in the test saves 10 watts with the least efficient, so that saves 20 euros on an annual basis.

The extent to which sound production is relevant will differ from person to person. Silence is a plus for a nas in the living room. The user who has his NAS in the meter cupboard or basement probably attaches less value to it. Incidentally, we do not recommend a place in a bedroom even with the quietest discs.

We test the sound production at a distance of ten centimeters in three scenarios: at rest (idle), during sequential load (streaming a video file) and during a random access benchmark. The latter is the worst-case scenario in terms of noise production. Up to approximately 37 decibels at that distance, we call the discs quiet and around 40 decibels we speak of easily audible discs. We call the results towards 50 decibels emphatically present, even in a cozy living room you will continue to hear a nas with these discs.

Performance less important

As we mentioned, the performance of a drive is often limited by the 1Gbit/s networks that can be found in practically every household or small office. Nevertheless, we compare them for situations in which higher speeds would come into their own, for example a situation in which a 10Gbit/s network is present or with a nas in which two network connections are combined into one (trunking).

But even in that case you will rarely really use the full bandwidth. With access on your laptop via WiFi or streaming media, you certainly don't use the bandwidth. If you regularly have to load large files and if you have a nas with support for trunking or a 10 Gbit/s network, we would only consider it. The access times we measure are theoretically relevant for typical NAS purposes, but the practical impact is very limited.

Reliability?

In theory, the reliability of a hard drive is the most crucial element. In practice, 'reliability' is simply not something you can test reliably, representatively. That requires huge numbers and years of testing. By the time you can say something sensible about model X and Y, those models have long been replaced by an alternative. History tells us that each brand has had more and less successful series. Cloud storage giant Backblaze reports reliability stats from different brands several times a year, but they mainly test consumer drives in a heavy cloud server scenario. Interesting read for the hard drive geek, but of limited relevance for our considerations today. For the enthusiast.

More crucial is the fact that any drive can fail and a longer warranty is no protection against possible loss of data. Which drive you eventually buy does not change the fact that you have to calculate the failure of one or more of your NAS drives, in other words always make sure you have a solid backup! Especially from your nose!

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