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Notebook Hard Drive Buying Guide

Table of contents

What is notebook hard drive?

The notebook hard drive is every bit like the typical 3.5-inch internal hard drive, only smaller to contribute to the mobility of the device it is installed into (e.g. a notebook). A notebook hard drive also ensures sufficient data storage capacities, lower power consumption to extend device battery life, and enhanced reliability for data protection.

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Characteristics of the notebook hard drive

Small form factor

A desktop computer case typically has enough space inside for 3.5-inch drives. A notebook computer, on the other hand, must be portable (compact and light), putting internal space at a premium, which is why a smaller 2.5-inch or 1.8-inch notebook hard drive is typically used. 1.8” hard drives are mainly installed and used in ultra-portable notebooks.

Low power consumption

A notebook’s battery life determines how long it will operate without being plugged in to a power socket. Almost all notebook components are specifically designed for reduced power consumption, and the notebook hard drive is no exception. The average operating power consumption of a 7,200 RPM 3.5-inch internal hard drive currently exceeds 10 watts. A 7200 RPM notebook hard drive consumes only 2 watts by comparison.

Silent Operation

Most of us enjoy notebook computers that operate with as little noise as possible. Though current notebook hard drives spin at speeds of up to 5,400 RPM and even 7,200 RPM, the noise-reduction technologies employed in current hard drives mean that hard drives can run whisper-quiet.

Enhanced reliability

Quite unlike desktop computers, notebook computers are often moved from one place to another and are even taken for jogs. This is a real challenge for notebook hard drives because shock may cause data loss or even physical damage. To this end, enhanced shock protection technologies have been developed for higher shock tolerance. A 7,200 RPM notebook hard drive can withstand a shock load of over 200 Gs during operation, whereas just half that (100 Gs) is sufficient for failure in desktop hard drives.

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Key specifications to understand

Notebook hard drive specifications, including capacity, spindle speed, cache, and interface -- each have parts in determining the performance of not only the hard drive, but the notebook it is installed into as well. Choosing a notebook hard drive that best suits your requirements and your notebook’s tech specs is easy after understanding them.


The notebook hard drive’s compact profile limits both the platter size and the number of the platters in the hard drive, which makes it a difficult task to increase overall drive capacity. Thanks to the developing storage technologies such as PMR (Perpendicular Magnetic Recording), notebook hard drives can now offer capacities of over 100GB and even up to 160GB. Currently 20GB, 40GB, 60GB, 80GB, 100GB, 120GB, 160GB and 200GB models are all available.


The RPM value corresponds to the spindle speed—a key parameter in determining the performance of a hard drive. The spindle speeds of the mainstream notebook hard drives are 5,400 RPM, but 7,200 RPM and 4,200 RPM drives are also available for better performance and less power consumption respectively.


Cache (also called the buffer) helps to improve the performance of a hard drive by holding the data temporarily for rapid access. A larger cache holds more data and is beneficial towards the performance of a hard drive. Notebook hard drives typically come with 2 MB, 8MB or 16MB cache options.


There are currently two interface standards adopted for use in notebook hard drives: parallel ATA (also known as IDE) and serial ATA (known as SATA). Most parallel ATA notebook hard drives follow the ATA-6 specification for 100MB/s I/O throughput; while SATA notebook hard drives are compliant with SATA 150 for a throughput of 1.5 Gb/s (150MB/s), or SATA 3.0 Gb/s for a throughput of 3.0 Gb/s (300MB/s).

IDE interface SATA interface

Please note that connector formats can differ on notebook hard drives that are compliant with the same interface standard, For example, Hitachi notebook hard drives utilizing the ATA-6 interface can be produced in standard IDE form and ZIF connector form as well.

IDE connector ZIF connector

We recommend referring to your notebook manual (or contact the notebook manufacturer) to ensure that the hard drive connector in your notebook matches that of your choice of replacement hard drive.

Form factor

Currently there are two notebook hard drive form factors in use: 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch. The former is widely applied in most notebook types, while the latter is typically found in ultra-portable notebooks.

Please note that notebook hard drive thickness can differ even when the form factors are the same. Therefore, please choose a replacement hard drive sporting a form factor and thickness matching your notebook’s hard drive bay. For example, avoid choosing a 2.5-inch hard drive with a thickness of 12.5 mm if your notebook will only hold a 2.5-inch hard drive that is 9.5mm thick.

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How to choose the right notebook hard drive

Form factor and interface

As mentioned in the Key Specifications section, notebook hard drives come in different form factors and with different interfaces. It is vital to opt for the hard drive in the form factor and interface supported by your notebook. If you are not familiar with hard drive installation and uninstall procedures, please contact the notebook manufacturer or seek professional assistance.

Capacity and performance

Larger capacities are all about the simple ability to store more data. When it comes to performance, what truly matters are a faster spindle speed and more cache. Faster spindle speeds, however, may result in higher power consumption and more heat, so we recommend contacting the notebook manufacturer to ensure that the hard drive model you are purchasing will work properly with your notebook prior to purchase.

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Solid State Notebook Drives

Just as in desktop computers, a notebook’s Hard Disk Drive can be substituted by a Solid State Drive, compatible with all operating systems. Solid state means they do not use any moving parts like the spinning platter in the hard disk drives. Subsequently, they use less energy and generate almost no heat – one of the biggest enemies to your computer’s longevity. 

Solid State Drives can cost 5- to 10-times more than a hard disk drive when comparing dollar amount per gigabyte. However, they easily outperform hard disk drives – so much so that most users who have experienced computing with a solid state drive are unwilling to go back. They are faster, quieter, cooler, more durable, and more reliable.The cost savings in the long run with greater productivity and lower energy usage makes solid state drives well worth the money.

Consumers can now find Solid State Drives in a multiplicity of sizes, capacities, and interface options. Check the specifications on your notebook’s drive bay and then check out the various brands, prices, and memory space of the solid state drives on to find the right one for you.

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Hybrid Notebook Disk Drives

Fairly new to the notebook world are Solid State Hybrid Drives. These unique drives are made of the original Hard-Disk Drives that have been in use for decades, combined with Solid State Drives, which have recently become popular for their high speed performance — in one compact unit.  

SSHDs are designed to bring the best of both types of drive into one — the disk drive for its enormous memory capacity with the solid state drive for its speed. In hybrid drives, the solid state component is recognized as a cache by a computer’s operating system. Manufacturers usually build the hybrid drives with an algorithm that tracks a user’s most-used applications, websites, information, etc, and moves them from the hard disk to the solid state memory for rapid recall and multi-tasking. Less-used applications and information stay on the hard drive. A notebook equipped with a hybrid drive will actually see an improvement in speed and performance with commonly accessed information as the solid state/cache portion builds over time.   

Depending on the amount of memory, speed of the hard drive’s disk, and the size of the cache you are considering, Hard Disk Drives are usually the lowest priced and purely Solid State Drives are the most expensive. Cost for the hybrids is usually right between these two. 

As with the two other types of drives, make sure your computer’s drive bay matches the specifications on a hybrid drive before trying to install one. Typically, hybrid drives come in these form factors: 2.5” in width with both 9.5mm and 7mm thicknesses, using a SATA interface. Various speeds and capacities are available to choose from.

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