What Are the Highest Capacity, Least Expensive, & Most Reliable Hard Drives for Backup?

Western Digital Red NASDealing with video these days usually means working with lots of data, and when you're working with a lot, it usually means you're backing up even more. One solution for backing up is to buy drives that already come in a RAID (like the popular G-RAID, and another is to either purchase or make your own with bare drives (and yes, before going further, RAID itself is not necessarily backup depending on how it's configured and where the physical drives are). If you're going to be putting together your own RAID system, click through for which drives might be a good buy.

Thanks to Backblaze for doing the heavy lifting, we've got an idea about what you might want to be looking at if you're building your own system. It should be noted that Backblaze is running these hard drives through the toughest situation possible, but they should be a good indicator of the kind of performance you'd get:

Backblaze Annual Hard Drive Failure Rate

Why they have the drives they do:

Why do we have the drives we have? Basically, we buy the least expensive drives that will work. When a new drive comes on the market that looks like it would work, and the price is good, we test a pod full and see how they perform. The new drives go through initial setup tests, a stress test, and then a couple weeks in production. (A couple of weeks is enough to fill the pod with data.) If things still look good, that drive goes on the buy list. When the price is right, we buy it.

And the drives that aren't great for their use (or most RAIDs in general):

The drives that just don’t work in our environment are Western Digital Green 3TB drives and Seagate LP (low power) 2TB drives. Both of these drives start accumulating errors as soon as they are put into production. We think this is related to vibration. The drives do somewhat better in the new low-vibration Backblaze Storage Pod, but still not well enough.

The Hitachi drives they've tested have consistently done the best, but they also happen to be more expensive compared to the competition. While the Seagates haven't done as well over an extended period of time, they do seem to at least hold up over the first year. By the third year (36 months), however, the Seagates are down around to around 73% survival, while the Hitachi and Western Digital drives are around 94% or higher.

Which Drives Are Currently the Favorites?

Right now their favorite drives are the Seagate Desktop 4TB HDD.15 (ST4000DM000) and the Western Digital 3TB Red (WD30EFRX). You might think the Seagate is an odd choice based on the failure rate of past drives, but it's all about the bang for the buck. In their environment, it makes sense to try out a new drive like this, and if it doesn't work out in the long-term, replace it with something else. If you're putting together your own system, this may also be a possible solution, especially since over a long enough period of time, all drives do fail. Though if you're interested only in reliability, the Western Digital and Hitachi drives might be the better options.

In my limited experience, I've had very, very good luck with the Caviar Black series of drives from Western Digital. These are going to be the more costly, but if you're trying to run a system for speed and not necessarily just for backup, those might be a better solution. I'm also starting to experiment with the Seagate 4TB drives, so we'll see how they last over the next few years from a regular amount of abuse.

Your Mileage May Vary

It's tough to argue with hard evidence, but these results don't necessarily mean any of these drives are bad. If you want to run them a lot for long periods of time, however, it might be worth it to run some of the same drives they have had success with. If you're wondering where Toshiba and Samsung fit into the mix, Backblaze doesn't run enough of them to have solid numbers on their failure rates, so they were excluded from their charts.

If you're wondering about Solid State Drives (SSDs), for lots of storage they don't make much sense, as you can get significantly more value for your money with regular spinning drives. They are certainly much faster, but if you're looking at a backup situation, it's going to be prohibitively expensive to build it out of SSDs (even if it's possible that their failure rates are lower).

Head on over to the post at the Backblaze blog as there is so much more in-depth information about the exact hard drives and how they perform over time.

What has your success rate been with certain brands? Have you seen any trends with your own hard drives?


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Your Comment


I've always had luck with these: http://www.floppydisk.com/retail.htm

February 13, 2014 at 7:16AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


So funny, tell another.

February 13, 2014 at 7:31AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Still good enough for EDL's. :P

February 13, 2014 at 9:03AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

You voted '+1'.

I must be using the better Seagate drives then, because the ones in my use have performed well.

February 13, 2014 at 7:29AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


These stats aren't perfect. They use far more Seagate drives than the other brands. Plus, they're using consumer level drives in an enterprise application.

February 13, 2014 at 7:42AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Here are the numbers:

# of Drives/Size in Gigabytes/Average Age in Years

Seagate 12,765 39,576 1.4
Hitachi 12,956 36,078 2.0
WD 2,838 2,581 2.5
Toshiba 58 174 0.7
Samsung 18 18 3.7

February 13, 2014 at 7:53AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

I agree. If the data is critical and price is a major factor, then they'd have to make the hard choice. Buy a Glyph or GTech if the data integrity is priority, or go for the Hitachi if price is the paramount concern.

February 13, 2014 at 7:55AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


THat's why they are using percentages.

February 13, 2014 at 4:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Anyone have anyluck with Backblaze for backup? I just got a 300mbps fiber ISP to try to backup a few TB with their "unthrottled" back up, but so far I've only managed to get 4.5mbps upload speeds.

February 13, 2014 at 7:52AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I used Backblaze for a couple of years. Great service. Slow upload, but that's expected. It's not supposed to be fast, just quietly uploading in the background.

February 13, 2014 at 9:09AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Crashplan is vastly better for filmmakers simply because they don't erase data from external hard drives after 30 days as BackBlaze does.

February 19, 2014 at 2:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


gtech uses hitachi drives

February 13, 2014 at 8:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Howard L Hughes

My experience hasn't been so good with Hatachi. I use 8 drives , 2TB WD RE4 in a raid 6 configuration. It's not as fast as a raid0 but so far pretty reliable. Putting together my system I had no idea some drives (most drives) aren't raid compatiable. After switching to the re4's things have been pretty smooth, plus the warranty is excellent. Drives are important but for a raid set up its more important is to get drives with low timeout readings and always use a quality raid card. Never use the mobo raid controller, it's going to fail there's no doubt about it. To free up space I always off load on to cheaper single drives to store my media. Good article, very important info

February 13, 2014 at 8:43AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Anthony Marino

All hard drives will crash... There is no way around it.. Ive had them all with all different raid configs.... The only true safest backup is LTO. LTO-5 has a shelf life of 30 years.. (Obviously its not a hard drive its tape) but if your looking for a true archive/backup. LTO is the way to go.

February 13, 2014 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


If you can afford it, and if you can make the SAS Interface work with your computer and software. There seems only one drive with a USB interface, from a more or less unknown Japanese company.

February 14, 2014 at 3:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Thyl Engelhardt

Hard disks have a very long shelf life. I have read a few studies that attempted to predict it, and all were at over 60 years at 70F, with low humidity increasing the figure..

Google this:

Predicting Archival Life of Removable Hard Disk Drives

My personal experience with drives has been positive also. Without the wear of running, they are quite safe. All my old drives still work, I recently did a backup of lots of useless staff:) This included Amiga drives and some 20yo PC drives. All consumer quality drives, but that should be irrelevant when wear is low. Some have very low hours, some have been on computers for a few years.Density does go up, but I expect technology to be better also.

I suspect tape cannot compete with hard disks in archival. I had tape fail in the past and it was catastrophic because both backups were unreadable on the unit that created them. I don't know much about the environmental parameters of that backup. The situation was saved by an accidental HDD duplicate on a first generation Raptor.

Hard disks have a bad reputation because many consumers use them in very extreme scenarios these days. And by extreme I mean beyond their specification. A consumer drive inside a hot laptop running 24/7 on p2p, or in a video storage RAID will not live long. And since that would be the result of normal wear, the disk will deteriorate very fast.

Based on my experience, I would trust any backup on duplicate offline HDD, when the two disks come from different manufacturers. In 10y or so I would backup to the latest generation, keeping the originals, just to be conservative and keep up with more modern interfaces.

On the other hand, an online HDD backup cannot be trusted. The probability of failure is very high after a year. Raid1/5 is safe, but it stresses the disks a lot if they are consumer spec, so failures come way sooner and quite close to each other. Use appropriate spec for each application.

February 18, 2014 at 7:19PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Little Mermaido

Great article. I've always wonder about this and it's good to see some solid data.

February 13, 2014 at 10:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Gene Sung

I've seen this Backblaze blog post mentioned in several places. One thing these articles never point out is that they were only using consumer level drives in an enterprise application, as another commentor noted. Consequently, my favorite drive, the Western Digital Black series, was completely left out. I am a computer consultant and deal with a lot of failed drives. While the Backblaze information is useful in many ways, I would be leery about extrapolating it without some consideration of context.

February 13, 2014 at 11:12AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I agree. I have used Western Digital Blacks ever since I had to do an exchange of a failed drive with Seagate (nightmare) compared to WD exchange.

All my black drives are still running years after warranty and abuse while all the other brands have fallen to the wayside. WD customer service is excellent and fast.

February 13, 2014 at 5:33PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


SSD's, however, are quite useful for real time/live recording/data acquisition. And they are much cheaper per unit of storage than higher end media cards such as SxS or C-Fast, so if there's a choice between the media cards and an external recorder with a built-in SSD, it should be a better buy to go with the external recorder and then just dump files onto the HDD's.

February 13, 2014 at 1:50PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


What I think is really interesting is that they use a lot of "consumer" grade hard drives. In that environment the manufactures marketing pitches must not matter. With whatever crazy amount of redundancy they have, it must be not worth the extra cost of getting the server grade drives like the Reds or Blacks. That being said if you are building a 5 drive system and 2 broken drives can mean a world of pain, it's probably best to spend the extra money.

February 13, 2014 at 7:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Mike Hendzel

Companies in the storage business test their drives, they are very experienced with the different models in the market, and they are not fooled by marketing. The enterprise drives have very different specs. They are designed to be packed together in small spaces, under high vibration, used 24/7, under constant access and still be good for five years. Occasionally one specs of these is integrated into high end consumer drives such as WD Black or Hitachi Deskstar, but there are still many differences. They cost twice as much as entry level consumer drives for a reason.

This company does not even approach light usage patterns, so they can get away with cheaper drives if vibration is not an issue for the specific drive model. In other environments, the consumer drives will fail within months.

February 17, 2014 at 10:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Little Mermaido

If you're backing things up properly, it really shouldn't matter that much to you when a single drive fails. Drives fail, it's what they do...they spin around for a long time, and rust, and then they stop. Drives should just be something you pull out and push into your rig/workflow whenever necessary and rather than worrying about how to save a few bucks more on them, you should be asking yourself "how can I work differently so this won't even be a thing I worry much about?"

February 13, 2014 at 9:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


please don’t post such misleading stories on the web, at least try to research it and use logic before posting such possibly damaging story…

--> this is what actually happened and the way Backblaze got their “results”


February 14, 2014 at 9:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


@TechFan Thanks for the link, it's a good read poking many a hole in Backblaze's failure of basic scientific testing

February 20, 2014 at 8:05PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Red/Green < Black/SE/Deskstar7K < RE ~= Ultrastar7K

February 17, 2014 at 5:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Little Mermaido

I must confess that I'm a WD fanboy. But I wasn't always. I bought a WD 1TB drive (Black) a few years back and it crashed not long after I purchased it. After some low-level wrangling with no positive result, I fired off a nasty-gram to WD's CEO and he put Jim Case on the job. Jim not only retrieved the data from the crashed drive, he replaced it with a better one--and threw in another 360MB "My Passport" portable drive. This won me over and I went back and bought a companion to the 1TB drive Jim replaced. It's that kind of outstanding customer service that made the difference for me, and I give a hearty shout-out to Jim for exceeding expectations! Oh and almost 3 years later, the two drives are still spinning!

February 20, 2014 at 2:26PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


@Terry...And while no one may have noticed. SERVICE is all these companies have to offer. They all have product, & products fail. But does that company have SERVICE as it's priority?

February 20, 2014 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM



February 23, 2014 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM



do not buy a seagate backup plus drive, it is pure bs. It says it is usb 3 and it transfers
at usb 2 speed maybe 25mb/s. Pure and unadulterated bs, try transfering 4 tb at 25/s
you will die of starvation before the drive transfers. And yes duh I am using
a new 2014 laptop with usb 3 and usb 3 cable of course.

February 20, 2014 at 6:26PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I've owned raids since my first SCSI 36GB raid that ran me $7,200. (and I had twice as much as my competitors!) Since then, I have found a great little company, MAC GURUS, that builds raids and provides kits to build your own raids. The first raid I bought was in 2005 which I built from their kit, and it's still spinning without a glitch. (I did replace a noisy fan for $15) Rick is the owner, and also answers the phone and helps with tech ?s. The website www.macgurus.com is also loaded with important drive info as well as how to articles and what to look out for when buying drives. We've purchased drives from Rick for 5 shows now and we've never been disappointed! These aren't beautiful pieces of art - they are raids - so don't expect a twin to your mac. They are what they are. Inexpensive, reliable and backed with awesome customer service. I can't recommend these guys to you any more strongly. In case you are wondering - no, I don't get any discount from them for recommendations - just piece of mind that what I spend my hard earned money on is going to work day in and day out!!!! Hope this helps.
Kind Regards,

February 21, 2014 at 5:48PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Christopher Kinsman

It tallys with my experience with hard drives. Seagate often have highest failure rate unless you place them in very cold rooms. They tend to run way too hot and with long hours of running in any enclosure they will literally cooked themselves to death. WD Reds seem to be more stable after a little hick up in the beginning but it was operator error on a new enclosure. I would go either with WD Reds as the warranty is the best, Hitachi does not have 3 year warranties any more and the product I saw was made in China not awe inspiring.

February 23, 2014 at 1:15AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

ellery chua