A prominent online backup company recently published an article titled “What is the best hard drive?” based on their years of experience using hard drives from Western Digital, Seagate, and Toshiba. This company purchases 2000 or more hard drives at a time and currently have over 41,000 drives in operation. They also keep meticulous reliability records, and have been willing to share their findings over the past few years.
But what does it mean to have the “best” hard drive? Does it mean the best performing drive or does it mean the most reliable drive? For Backblaze the “best” drive is a combination of price and reliability as they make clear in their report. Although the HGST drives are the most reliable, they come with a $15-$20 cost premium over the Seagate drives which perform nearly as well.
Whenever you come across a “Best” of anything article, it’s wise to research how the writer defines best to make sure it matches up with your definition.
This week I’d like to share with you some of the core computer components we’ve found to be the “best” at Puget Systems in 2014. We test hundreds of products each year in our lab. We build products using those components and then put them under numerous stress tests to insure they meet our quality standards. We might find a product that performs well, but that has sub-par reliability. In that case, we would not offer that component for sale even if it’s a popular model everyone else is selling.
We define a great product as one that includes the important core features, performs well, and above all, is reliable. Support, warranty, and cutting-edge features are less important to us, but may sway us when everything else is evenly matched. I understand that many people are loyal to specific brands, and my goal isn’t to persuade you to those I recommend. My goal is to share with you a few products we’ve found to be incredibly reliable over the years which may help you make broader hardware decisions in your IT or MSP role.
Although processors and storage get most of the attention, any computer builder should start with a high quality motherboard. The last thing you want to do is put high quality components into an unreliable motherboard because it can be difficult and time consuming to troubleshoot if things go awry. Motherboards have so many parts to them, many of which are small and fragile, they often have the highest failure rate among all core components. Extensive internal testing before and after each PC is built helps us catch most issues, but it’s still not a component choice to take lightly.
With this is mind, we favor motherboards by Asus over all others. They cost a bit more, but they have proven to be the most reliable motherboards we’ve sold. Asus tends to hold back offering bleeding edge features until the bugs have been worked out which is a departure from some brands who rush boards to market.
Three models in particular have been very reliable: Asus Gryphon Z97, ASRock FM2A88X-ITX+, and the Asus Z10PE- D8 WS which powers our workstations. We’ve built hundreds of desktops and workstations using these boards and all perform well and offer high reliability.
Our customers overwhelmingly prefer Intel processors, which makes sense given our focus on high-end computing. AMD had a nice run a few years back, but Intel absolutely dominates the desktop and server CPU market outside of lower end desktops in which AMD provides a good “bang for the buck” product. Over the past year, only about 4% of customers asked us to build a custom desktop, workstation, or server using AMD processors. I believe we’d all benefit from a more competitive processor market. I suspect we might see ARM provide Intel with some competition before AMD does.
As you can imagine, we offer a lot more Intel CPU options than AMD. When we do sell AMD processors and it’s usually Opteron chips which provide a good value in workstations and servers. They have been just as reliable as Intel’s Xeon chips, at usually a fraction of the cost.
If you look at only the reliability of CPUs, both Intel and AMD are winners. Both have been incredibly reliable over the past several years. The total failure for all CPUs we sold in 2014 is a miniscule 0.27%. AMD is a good place to start if you’re building a less expensive system. Otherwise, we recommend going with Intel because they offer much better performance in most situations.
RAM is where we start to see large swings in reliability between one brand and another. It’s not uncommon for the most reliable RAM to be 10x more reliable than other brand, and some of the most expensive brands tend to be the least reliable. Don’t be fooled by fancy heat sinks or aggressive styling when shopping for RAM.
We’ve tested RAM from a number of companies for many years, yet we continue to return to the Kingston models because they are so much more reliable than anything else on the market. Kingston isn’t a flashy company, which puts them under the radar of many enthusiasts.
But Kingston has been slow to offer DDR4 modules so we began offering RAM from Crucial since it performed well in our lab. That’s proven to be a wise move because the Crucial RAM has been every bit as reliable as the Kingston models.
Our most reliable desktop DDR4 has been the 4 and 8 GB sticks of Crucial DDR4-2133. Of thousands of modules sold, we didn’t have a single failure in 2014.
Crucial also builds very reliable DDR4 workstation and server RAM. The 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB models of Crucial ECC RAM have been incredibly reliable. We only had a single 32GB stick fail last year.
If you’re building a workstation or server using a motherboard that supports DDR3 RAM, we still prefer Kingston over anything else. The Kingston HyperX line has been excellent.
If you’ve had a good experience with a brand of drive, you tend to be loyal to that brand for life because drive failures can be disastrous. All other computer components can fail without causing too many problems, but drive failure can result in data loss. We keep this in mind when testing drives from various makers because performance differences among brands is often undetectable by the end user.
Let’s start with SSDs. While we offer a mix of Intel and Samsung models, our customers overwhelmingly selected Samsung SSDs in 2014. This is probably due primarily to Samsung offering great performance, aggressive pricing, and a longer warranty than some brands.
The Samsung 840 Evo and Samsung 850 Pro lines have been great drives and we highly recommend them. The Evo offers a more moderate priced drive while the Pro is one of the fastest drives on the market and comes with a 10 year warranty. Many customers still believe SSDs suffer from reliability issues, but that hasn’t been our experience. Having sold thousands of Samsung SSDs, we had only two drives fail on us in 2014.
Intel SSDs such as the DC line of drives have also been perfect in terms of reliability. They focus more on data center storage with high IOPS which means we don’t sell as many, and they tend to be very expensive. They are worth a look if you’re building out systems for a data center.
As for traditional mechanical hard drives, we like both the Red and Blue lines made by Western Digital. Mechanical drives are at higher risk of failure due to moving parts. We offer Black, Green, Red, Velociraptor, and RE drives from Western Digital and the Red and Blue drives have been the most reliable with only single drive from each line failing in 2014. Yes, they cost a bit more than other drives, but when your data is at risk, a difference of $20 isn’t normally a factor.
These are the core components of the types of systems you’re most likely building or supporting. We keep reliability reports on every component we sell. So if you’re interested in other components such as graphics cards or power supplies go ahead and shoot me off an email and I’m happy to provide that data as well.
Photo credit: Quasic via Flickr