Western Digital vs Seagate: we take a look at the two storage giants

We see which storage company when it comes to internal, external and media-focussed hard drives

When it comes to storage, Western Digital and Seagate are perhaps the two most recognisable brands in the market. They rival each other in nearly every segment of the storage market and try to outdo each other with innovations in ease of use and power efficiency. We've pitched these two storage giants against each other and taken a look at some of the key differences between their products.

Internal Storage

Both Western Digital and Seagate started out making internal hard drives, so it only makes sense that the contest begins here. Hard drives have evolved immensely: storage capacities have increased by 50 times in the last decade alone and speed and power efficiency have also improved. Different segments of the market have emerged (consumer, enthusiast/enterprise, AV) to cater to different classes of user; those who require greater speed as opposed to capacity, for example. When it comes to internal storage power efficiency certainly plays a part, but it essentially comes down to whether you want space or speed.

Capacity

Western Digital was one of the first to offer up to 2 terabytes of space in its internal hard drives as part of its energy-saving Caviar Green range. Seagate was comparatively slow to release such a big drive, but now offers its Barracuda LP drives with the same capacity. With the move to 2TB both companies have focussed on power efficiency, reducing power consumption compared to conventional consumer internal hard drives by up to half. The Seagate Barracuda LP is the faster of the two, but the WD Caviar Green 2TB drive wins out on energy efficiency and is generally cheaper than the Barracuda. We'd pick Western Digital's Caviar Green for those on a budget, but if you can afford to fork out the cash then the Seagate drive is certainly enticing.

If you want even better performance from a 2TB hard drive Western Digital also offers an enterprise flavour offers greater reliability than both the Caviar Green and Barracuda LP drives, as well as improved performance without sacrificing power efficiency.

Performance

Both companies offer speedy drives designed to access and write your data as fast as possible. Western Digital offers the lauded VelociRaptor range; it's a drive PC World uses in its benchmark tests. However, Seagate's equivalent — the aptly named Cheetah 15K.6 — has superior capacity (up to 450GB), server-focussed connectivity and better performance overall. You won't be putting the Cheetah 15.6K hard drive into a conventional desktop PC without a Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) host, but this drive certainly surpasses Western Digital's option when it comes to speed.

Solid State

Western Digital and Seagate have both been fairly reluctant to invest into the comparatively new solid-state drive field. Seagate has gone as far as claiming that SSD drives aren't worth the price and effort. The tide is slowly turning, however. Last month Western Digital finally entered the consumer market with its SiliconDrive III range of SSDs, available in 30-120GB capacities. The debate still rages as to whether or not SSDs are the future, but if you're hell-bent on getting one then Western Digital's new offering is your only choice when it comes to these two companies.

Winner: Western Digital

Seagate currently offers the best performance for internal storage but Western Digital ultimately provides a wider range of options and better value for money in the higher capacity drives.

External Storage

External storage is great for backing up personal and corporate data, as well as for transporting large amounts of information from one computer to another. The better choice in this case is a matter of who provides the best security, largest capacities and best choice of connectivity.

Portable

Western Digital and Seagate both offer a variety of pocket external hard drives with differences in capacity and connectivity. We prefer the book-like design on Western Digital's My Passport range to the FreeAgent Go case. However, unless you need a FireWire 800 connection we would pick the Maxtor BlackArmor (Maxtor is a subsidiary of Seagate). This Maxtor portable hard drive provides government-grade encryption to ensure your data doesn't get into the wrong hands. We are yet to see anything from Western Digital to match this level of security.

Desktop

Western Digital wins out when it comes to larger capacities, offering its My Book Studio Edition II with 4TB of storage in either a RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration, along with plenty of connectivity. By contrast, the best Seagate can muster is 2TB of storage from the single-drive FreeAgent Desk. Though Seagate's offering excelled in our USB 2.0 file transfer tests, the eSATA port on the My Book Studio Edition II provides nearly double the throughput of the FreeAgent Desk.

Network-attached storage

Like solid-state drives, NAS devices appear somewhat of an afterthought for Seagate and Western Digital. Still, both companies compete in this market, with Western Digital's Sharespace and Seagate's BlackArmor NAS 440 going head to head. Though undeniably uglier, the BlackArmor 440 NAS device is ultimately the better choice of the two, providing better connectivity and configuration options compared to Western Digital's SMB-focussed NAS device.

Winner: Seagate

Western Digital rules the coop when it comes to the larger external hard drives, but Seagate's pocket hard drive and NAS devices provide better security and configuration options over the competition.

Home Theatre

The latest battlefield between Western Digital and Seagate is the lounge room, thanks to the relatively recent introduction of the WD TV and FreeAgent Theatre. Both allow you to play media from an external hard drive on your TV, but the differences between the two are immediately noticeable. You can plug any USB external hard drive (formatted to HFS+, NTFS or FAT32) into the WD TV, but Seagate's FreeAgent Theatre uses a mini-USB connection that is positioned in such a way that it is essentially only compatible with the company's own FreeAgent Go external hard drives.

The FreeAgent Theatre has no HDMI port and media format support is limited. The WD TV, on the other hand, has HDMI and support for pretty much in media format you can throw at it, with more support continually being added through firmware updates. If you are looking for a basic slideshow or audio player to go with your FreeAgent Go, the FreeAgent Theatre might suffice, but for everything else the WD TV wins hands down.

Winner: Western Digital

There are better media players and streamers available, but the WD TV does a good job of connecting your external storage to the TV. Media support is comprehensive and the inclusion of HDMI makes it a much better choice than Seagate's current offering.

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James Hutchinson

PC World
Topics: seagate, storage, western digital
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