About a year ago, when major manufacturers made their first terabyte disk drives available to the public, a storage capacity barrier had been broken, albeit a mental one more so than a technological one. I’ve wondered about reliability, so it’s time to explore their popularity and levels of success.


In January 2007, Hitachi was the first manufacturer to release a terabyte drive for general public consumption. Six months later, Seagate followed suit. Western Digital soon followed. At the time, the price was in the $400 range. Today, a year or so later, with the cost at about half that amount (or maybe even less), it’s probably the drive of choice for a lot of people. Although I’ve not yet purchased one myself, it will surely be on my radar screen when I update the storage capacity of my servers, probably sometime later this year. It seems that our users create more and more data every year, using up more and more drive space, always being faced with the insatiable need for even more.

I recently received an e-mail from another TechRepublic member in response to my blog piece Build a Computer for a Vista 5.9 Performance Rating, asking if I had any experience with the terabyte drives.

An excerpt from that e-mail:

“….. I just had a Seagate 1TB drive fail on a level that would require professional data recovery and I’m about to start a new build project, so I’m kind of wary now. I’m currently looking at using five Western Digital 1TB drives in RAID 5. Any info/advice would be great.”

Of course, I told him that I have not used a terabyte drive, but it did compel me to do a bit of research. I was actually quite surprised that I found very little in the way of reported problems. In fact, the drive he used, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, was often reviewed as the best. Seagate even offers a five-year warranty on the drive, so at the very least, he should get a free replacement. Of course, the real downside of losing a hard drive is not the cost of the drive but the cost of losing — or retrieving — the data. Nonetheless, he’s still left wondering about the reliability of the terabyte drive. I’m not sure if the lack of reported problems is a testament to the reliability of the drives or if they just haven’t made their way into the mainstream of computing. Perhaps some TechRepublic members who’ve purchased one of the drives can offer some insight in that regard.

How much disk space is enough? Well, many of us remember the day of the massive 20MB drive, and we wondered if we would ever need more space. Today, many single files would take up that whole drive. Moore’s Law seems to apply not only to circuit boards and processing speed but also to hard drive space (as well as many electronic devices, such as digital cameras, memory capacity, etc.).

In my case, when I buy some terabyte drives for my servers, I’ll also have to buy them for my many levels of backups. In fact, since I never delete any file from my back-up drives, they actually require more space.

Terabyte tidbits

Seagate believes it will have a 300-terabyte drive by 2010, only two years into the future. They think they can eventually cram upward of 50TB of data per square inch on a 3.5″ drive.

What measure of quantity comes after terabyte? A petabyte is next — 1,000 terabytes, followed by exabyte, zettabyte, and yottabyte.

There are about 17 million books and documents in the Library of Congress, and, if digitized, they would take up 136 terabytes of information.

A terabyte drive can hold about 330,000 3MB photos or 250,000 MP3 files. (At 4 minutes per song, that’s a million minutes of music, or 16,666 hours, or 694 days, or almost two whole years of uninterrupted listening pleasure.)

A terabyte drive can hold about 1,000 hours of standard video, or about 250 hours of high-definition video.

Approximately 400,000 terabytes of e-mail are sent every year — and that’s a number from 2003!

Some 50,000 trees would be necessary to produce enough paper to hold the equivalent of 1 terabyte of information.

The first hard drive was created a little over 50 years ago; it weighed in at almost a ton, and it could hold 5MB of data. A terabyte of data would have required 200,000 of those drives, total weight being 400,000,000 pounds!

Thoughts on terabytes?

Here we have some terabyte facts and fun. If you can, feel free to share your experience with them. Are they reliable? Or should we wait a while for the bugs to be ironed out? Either way, in no time at all, a terabyte of information will seem small — just like that 20MB drive.