When it comes to storage, Western Digital and Seagate are the brands to beat but there's rarely a clear winner between the two. They rival one other in nearly every segment of the storage market and are constantly itching to outdo the other with innovations in ease of use and power efficiency.
If you're looking to invest in a portable hard drive or an internal SSD for your PC, there's a good chance you'll be forced to choose between the two. To make that process a little more straightforward, we've crunched the numbers and taken a look at some of the key differences between the two and their products.
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 over the last 20 years: storage capacities have grown exponentially, 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, it essentially comes down to whether you want space or speed.
Western Digital was one of the first to offer up to 2 terabytes of space in its internal SATA hard drives. Now, the company offers up to 6TB for desktops and 2TB for laptops. However, Seagate drives come in both cheaper and faster, though only marginally - an 8TB Barracuda (Amazon) drive sells for around AU$50 cheaper than Western Digital’s 6TB offering.
Seagate also offers a Pro version of the Barracuda with up to 14TB of storage (Amazon), though not without a hefty price tag. We’d pick Western Digital’s Blue range (Amazon) for those on a budget, but if you can afford something higher-end then Seagate’s drives are very tempting.
If you want better performance from a hard drive, Seagate offers a HDD/SSD hybrid range, the Firecuda SSHD. The 2TB desktop model (Amazon) includes 8GB of NAND flash memory to boot up and load games faster.
Solid State Drives (SSD)
On the solid state front, both companies offer speedy drives designed to access and write your data as fast as possible. Western Digital and Seagate were both initially reluctant to invest into the solid-state drive field, though they are now roughly neck-and-neck.
Both companies’ SATA SSDs, Seagate’s Barracuda 510 (Amazon) and Western Digital’s Blue 3D (Amazon), are practically the same in terms of speed, both offering a maximum of 2TB. In the newer NVMe range, the Firecuda 510 is where Seagate edges out the competition, though once again only marginally; the Western Digital Black 3D NVMe is more expensive though not as fast as the Firecuda 510.
In our review, Jon L. Jacobi came away similarly impressed with Seagate's FireCuda 520 saying that "The FireCuda 520 is a great drive, nearly as fast as any we’ve seen in the PCIe 3 benchmarks, and has the added benefit of supporting PCIe 4, which offers a noticeable jump in sustained throughput."
[Related: Everything you need to know about NVMe]
Seagate is currently on top of the race for larger internal storage and speed, though not by much. Western Digital still holds its own in the lower- to mid-range market.
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.
Western Digital and Seagate both offer a variety of pocket external hard drives with differences in capacity and connectivity. We prefer the colourful designs of Western Digital's My Passport range (Amazon), though Seagate’s Backup Plus Portable drives (Amazon) aren’t bad looking either. While Seagate may offer 5TB of storage here instead of Western Digital’s 4TB, the latter is cheaper - it’s a matter of personal preference.
However, if speed and security are what you’re looking for, the WD Passport SSD (Amazon) maximum capacity of 2TB can be encrypted with 256-bit AES using WD’s security software. While Seagate’s SATA drives have this capability, their comparable Fast SSD (Amazon) does not. The latter also opts for a USB-C cable instead of a traditional USB, which may irk some users.
In our review of Seagate's Fast SSD, we noted that "
at smaller sizes, the Fast SSD is a little more expensive than the competition. Yet, if you’re looking to buy in on the 1TB or 2TB models, the difference between how much Seagate’s offering will cost you and that of the competition is genuinely staggering."
If cables just aren’t your thing, Western Digital also offer wireless versions of their Passport range in up to 4TB (Amazon), with built-in SD card readers. This is a field that Seagate is yet to enter.
Western Digital wins out when it comes to larger capacities, offering its My Book Duo (Amazon) with 20TB of storage in either a RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration, along with plenty of connectivity. By contrast, the best Seagate can muster is 10TB of storage from the single-drive Backup Plus Hub (Amazon) or Expansion Desktop. To the average person, either company’s drive would be way more than enough storage for photos, videos, music and the odd document backup. If you’re looking to do 4K or even 8K video editing, or something else equally storage-intensive, Western Digital is your best bet.
Another edge that Western Digital has is their My Cloud (Amazon) line. Plugging directly into your Wi-Fi router, the drives allow users to backup their memories directly from smartphones and other devices using a companion app. Seagate are currently without a similar product since the release of their Personal Cloud back in 2017.
Network-attached storage and home theatre
NAS devices appear somewhat of an afterthought for Seagate, though Western Digital seem to have embraced the trend.
Western Digital offers the My Cloud Pro (Amazon) and Expert lines in up to 40TB, and Seagate are currently without a first-party NAS server altogether since the aforementioned Personal Cloud. It seems that they’ve instead opted to just produce NAS-designed drives, with the IronWolf range (Amazon) in up to 14TB.
It’s interesting to note that in the decade since this article was originally written, both Western Digital and Seagate have stopped producing their specific home theatre devices, which was once a tight battle for lounge-room dominance.
Instead, WD’s My Cloud Pro offers built-in support for Plex Media Server, which organises your library and allows streaming to any enabled device - smartphones, Chromecast, PlayStation 4 and more. While Seagate drives can be incorporated into NAS servers and used in the same way, they are without a high-capacity server with similar capabilities.
Our review of the Western Digital's My Cloud Home concluded that "There’s room for improvement but the My Cloud Home is absolutely a compelling option to consider. Though the software powering the experience does come with a few freckles, it still manages to offer a degree of ownership, control and consolidation over your digital footprint that sells itself. It’s not quite a NAS nor is it quite a portable hard drive, but it is dead-simple."
Winner: Western Digital
Western Digital rules the coop when it comes to external hard drives, recognising that ease-of-access to digital media and wireless connectivity are now more important than ever. However, while Seagate are yet to tap into the wireless and cloud-storage market, their offerings should not be overlooked.
This article was originally published on 6th July 2009 by James Hutchinson. It was updated 30th April 2019 by Sarah Lewis and then by Fergus Halliday on August 14th 2020.