Enterprise-Class vs. Consumer-Class HDDs: A Comparison

Enterprise-class HDDs and consumer-class HDDs differ from one another in a number of ways. Enterprise hard drives have a number of features that make them more suitable for business computing needs. Enterprise-class HDDs have limited error recovery times, so they don’t drop out of the RAID for no reason. They’re more tolerant of vibrations, they’re better able to protect data quality and they’re built to a higher standard of quality.

Enterprise-Class vs. Consumer-Class HDDs

Enterprise-Class HDDs Are Heavy-Duty

Now, that’s not to say that consumer-class HDDs are shoddily built; they aren’t. But manufacturers generally recognize that enterprise HDDs will be required to meet a much higher standard of performance than their consumer-class counterparts. They’re made with more platters, faster spindles and stronger actuator magnets. Their spindles are anchored on both ends, and they have built-in protections against turbulence. They’re built to run constantly, day in and day out, for years.

In comparison, consumer-class HDDs are lighter in weight, slower and have smaller magnets. That’s generally good enough for consumer use but not for a business environment.

Another crucial difference is in the warranties offered with the two kinds of equipment – consumer-class HDDs come with a limited warranty that covers the device but does not include protection for the data stored within. Enterprise-class HDDs come with longer, better warranties that typically include data protection. With enterprise-class drives, manufacturer support is there when you need it.

Enterprise Hard Drives Are Built to Be Part of a RAID

A RAID, or redundant array of independent disks, is a network of disks that acts like a single massive hard drive for your business’s entire computer network. Some of the disks are used for operational tasks while some are used for storage. If your RAID is operating properly, then it will take steps to recover data from any disk that doesn’t respond after seven or eight seconds.That’s because enterprise hard drives have what’s called error-recovery time limits, which are also referred to as error-recovery control, time-limited error recovery or command completion time limits.

Consumer-class hard drives don’t have error-recovery time limits; they’re programmed to operate all by themselves. When they have an error message, they’re designed to do everything they can to correct it, which is great if you’re using a consumer disk in its intended capacity. It will attempt to recover the data for a minute or more, and then send an error message if it can’t. If you were to put this disk into a RAID, though, and it suffered a data error, it wouldn’t be able to signal that error to the RAID’s control card in time. The RAID would drop it as non-functional. The whole array could suffer as a result.

Enterprise HDDs Can Withstand Vibrations

All HDDs vibrate when they’re in operation because of their internal platter disks that spin as they recovery data. If they vibrate too much, performance can be affected.

Consumer-class HDDs don’t need much protection against vibration, because they’re designed to operate as part of a personal computer. Enterprise-class HDDs, on the other hand, are intended to operate as part of a RAID, where they’ll likely be bolted to a rack along with many other spinning HDDs. Add in the vibrations of the high-speed fans and HVAC systems used to keep these systems cool, and that’s a lot of vibration!

Enterprise hard drives make up for this with sensors that allow for more vibration during operation. They’re equipped with servo wedges and firmware that helps compensate for the drive head misalignments that occur due to intense vibrations during operation. Such misalignments, if they occurred in a consumer-class HDD, would cripple the device.

Enterprise Drives Protect Data Integrity

Enterprise-class HDDs are designed to actively protect the integrity of the data they transmit, usually with some form of end-to-end error detection. End-to-end error detection attaches a checksum, which is a function used to check for data errors, to the data at every stage of transmission. At the next stage, the drive re-computes the checksum function to make sure the data is still correct.

In this way, an enterprise hard drive can self-correct data corruption as it functions. Consumer-class hard drives aren’t nearly so thorough in checking for data corruption, and they’re not capable of self-correcting data corruption at all.

Enterprise-class hard drives are comparatively sturdier than consumer-class hard drives. They’re built to work harder for longer, and to withstand higher levels of vibration. They have better manufacturer warranties and support and they’re better able to protect your data integrity. Most importantly, enterprise HDDs are designed to function as part of a RAID to provide the performance and storage capability businesses need.

About the Author: Contributing blogger Mike Wayman has worked in the technology sector for over 12 years. He also enjoys tinkering around with his own computer system at home.