It's that time of the year again, when people feel compelled to go out and upgrade their rigs for no apparent reason whatsoever. We call it back to school, and the industry loves it, as it has managed to turn an insignificant event into a catalyst for a mass shopping spree.
We'll start off by looking at storage, one of the dullest market segments in IT. Not much has changed in recent years, drives keep getting bigger and bigger, allowing you to store impressive amounts of illicit video content and legally downloaded music without burning those annoying DVDs. Speeds aren't going up at the same rate, not even close. Fortunately if you need faster storage you can get Raptors or SSDs nowadays, but this will end up costing you quite a bit. This market is driven by bigger is better.
In the best buy segment, 640 and 750GB drives reign supreme. Samsung has the cheapest drives in both sizes, the Spinpoint F1 in 640 or 750GB flavors can be yours for just €58 or €75 euro respectively. 500GB drives are slowly loosing out on the price per gigabyte front, but they're still a good choice, especially if you're going for a RAID setup, as most 500GB drives sell for just over €50.
Terabyte drives offer a slightly higher price per gigabyte, but the price is still very close to the aforementioned 640 and 750GB. Seagate's Barracuda 7200.10 is the cheapest 1TB model in the EU, retailing for as little as €104. The best of both worlds comes in the guise of Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11, a 1500GB drive with great price per GB. However due to its mammoth capacity, it still ends up priced at €153, so getting two of these babies will probably prove too costly for many consumers.
If performance is what you're after, you can check out WD's Jurassic park. The latest 2.5-inch VelociRaptors retail at €150 for the 150GB version and €210 for the 300GB model. The 74GB model isn't available yet, but it is listed at €118. Obviously, you end up paying a huge premium for top performance, as the 150GB VelociRaptor costs as much as a Seagate's 1500GB pack mule. You can still get the 3.5-inch Raptors as well, and the smallest, 36.7 and 73.4GB models retail for €88 and €109. The 150GB version costs €153. Considering the increasing appetite of most operating systems, applications and new games, we would advise against getting the small ones, even for a RAID setup. Basically, stick with the VelociRaptors, forget about the old ones.
SSDs? Ah, this is where it gets complicated, so I'll try to keep it as simple and brief as possible - don't buy them yet. Trust me, I'd like to get one, assemble a completely passive PC without a single moving part, however it still makes very little sense to use SSDs on desktop machines. SSDs do have a technological edge over traditional hard drives, but at the moment only notebook users and professionals stand to benefit from them. Silent operation, improved energy efficiency and shock resistance aren't very high on the priority list when it comes to desktops.
Having said that, we have to admit that SSDs are becoming more attractive alternative to contemporary desktop hard drives with each passing day. At the moment you can get relatively fast 64GB SSDs around the €150 mark. High performance units, such as OCZ's Core series or Patriot's Warp drives, retail at around €400 for 128GB models.
Coupled with a home or office NAS, these 128GB, and even 64GB models would be a great choice, but at these prices they're still very hard to recommend to anyone apart from hardcore enthusiasts or very demanding professionals.