Even if you love smartphones and tablets, you have to admit that storage is one of their biggest weaknesses: You’re pretty much stuck with whatever you buy. When you’re building your own PC, that’s not a problem—it’s easy to add more pretty much whenever you want. But even if you don’t have to worry too much about capacity, you need to make a few other crucial decisions when shopping.
What to look for?
Interface. Serial ATA (SATA) connections are still common, especially for hard drives, and your motherboard will undoubtedly have plenty. But you can also buy newer SSDs that install into your motherboard’s expansion slots and use the faster PCIe bus. Other interfaces are less common, but you may want to take a page from space-saving smaller systems and consider M.2 (which plugs directly into a motherboard port) for use as a boot drive. Just be certain your motherboard supports whatever standard you intend to use.
Hard drive or SSD? The price of solid-state drives (SSDs), which store data on flash memory, has dropped a lot in recent years, making them a better choice than ever to add to your computer if speed in booting up and accessing files is what you crave (check our list of best SSD). But by and large, they’re still punishingly expensive on a cost-per-gigabyte basis compared with traditional, slower mechanical hard drives: It’s not hard to track down a 3TB hard drive that costs $100 or less, whereas consumer-oriented SSDs top out at about 1TB—and those will run you $350 at an absolute minimum. Because of this, the classic advice is still the best: Pair a lower-capacity SSD, for installing Windows and your most important programs, with one or more spinning hard drives for housing data.
Form factor. This refers to the size of the drive, with hard drives coming in 3.5- or 2.5-inch varieties, and SSDs coming in 2.5- or 1.8-inch models. For desktop computers, form factor seldom matters much, though you’ll need to have the right kind of space in your case for whatever drive you choose.
Hard drive specs. Extra details may appear on hard drive listings that you won’t see with SSDs. Most consumer hard drives spin at either 7,200 or 10,000rpm, with speedier drives costing more and using more energy. You can also select the amount of cache memory your hard drive uses (up to 128MB) to boost performance. This information is helpful for detail-oriented purists, but of limited use if you don’t boot from your hard drive.
Optional optical. Now that most software is purchased and delivered digitally, an optical drive may not be a necessity for you, particularly if you don’t plan to install a lot of older programs. If you don’t want an optical drive, you’ll need another strategy for installing the operating system; use another computer to create an installation USB key, for example. If you do want a drive, it may be worth it to splurge a bit on a Blu-ray burner (they cost around $100, or about five times what you’d pay for a DVD burner), so you can watch high-definition movies you may have hanging around.