Setting up a home media server for centralized storage and streaming of your movie, music, and photo collections is a great way to make that media accessible from any device on your home network. However, one of the most critical decisions in building out a media server is choosing the right storage drive to house your precious media libraries. In this post, we’ll explore the key factors to consider when selecting hard drives for media server use.

A media server like Plex, Emby, or Jellyfin allows you to host your personal media libraries on a centralized device, while enabling seamless streaming to various clients like smart TVs, mobile devices, game consoles, and more. At the heart of the media server is the storage which holds your actual audio, video, and image files.

Media server hard drive best sellers

Last update on 2024-03-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

While solid state drives (SSDs) are gaining popularity for their blazing fast speeds, traditional spinning hard disk drives (HDDs) still remain the most cost-effective solution for managing massive media libraries. Their higher storage capacities and lower price points make HDDs a logical fit for media storage duties. However, not all hard drives are created equal, so you’ll need to make a careful selection to get the right blend of capacity, performance, and reliability.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key factors to keep in mind when picking the best hard drive for storing and serving your multimedia files from a centralized media server:

  • Hard drive types
  • Storage capacity
  • Drive speed and performance
  • RAID configurations
  • Drive interfaces
  • Reliability and warranties
  • Leading drive recommendations

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear sense of what to look for when choosing a storage drive purpose-built for always-on media server use. Let’s get started!

the best media server hard drive

Hard Drive Types

The first decision point when choosing a drive is whether to go with a traditional spinning hard disk drive, or a newer solid state drive. Each has its own pros and cons.

HDD vs SSD

HDD

  • Spinning disk hard drive
  • Most affordable per terabyte
  • Higher maximum capacities
  • Generally $15-30 per TB

SSD

  • Solid state storage (flash memory)
  • No moving parts
  • Much faster performance
  • More expensive per terabyte
  • Generally $80-150+ per TB

For media servers, HDDs still provide the best combination of high capacities and low cost. They are available in multi-terabyte sizes to accommodate even very large media libraries. SSDs are geing more affordable, but HDDs can’t be beat when you need lots of storage on a budget.

However, you’ll also want to think about the type of hard drive. HDDs come in everything from budget-friendly desktop models to pricier enterprise-class drives.

Desktop vs. Enterprise vs. NAS Drives

Desktop Drives

  • Low cost
  • Designed for light, intermittent use
  • Higher failure rates in 24/7 operation
  • Basic 1-2 year warranties

Enterprise Drives

  • Maximum reliability and performance
  • Designed for heavy 24/7 server workloads
  • Very expensive
  • Lengthy 5 year warranties

NAS Drives

  • Purpose-built for NAS and RAID environments
  • Rated for 24/7 operation
  • Better performance than desktop drives
  • 3-5 year warranties
  • Ideal balance of value and reliability

For a media server, NAS drives hit the sweet spot between affordability and being engineered specifically for the demands of RAID and 24/7 operation. Their moderate cost premium over desktop drives is worthwhile to avoid the higher failure risk of using lower-cost desktop hard drives not built for server use.

Key Buying Considerations

Now that we’ve covered the basic HDD options, let’s explore the key specification and features to evaluate when selecting a hard drive to operate in a media server.

Storage Capacity

The first consideration is determining the needed capacity. This depends on:

  • Size of your existing media library
  • Future growth expectations
  • Backup/redundancy needs

Plan ahead, as it’s better to have excess capacity than to run out of space for your growing collection. Some guidelines:

  • Bare minimum: 500GB
  • Recommended starting point: 4TB
  • Ideal for large libraries: 8TB or higher

Larger drives provide a better TB-per-dollar value. Just be sure your server has room to install multiple drives for redundancy.

Drive Speed and Performance

Once you’ve settled on overall capacity, look for drives with adequate performance:

  • Spindle speed: 7200RPM recommended, avoid slower 5400RPM drives
  • Cache size: 64MB or greater is ideal
  • Average data transfer rate: 150 MB/s or higher for sequential reads/writes

Faster drives enhance streaming, allowing more simultaneous streams without buffering. This becomes more important with high bitrate 4K content.

You can further boost speed by using SSD caching, storing frequently accessed content on a smaller but much faster SSD.

RAID Configuration

RAID provides increased performance, capacity, or redundancy by combining multiple drives:

RAID Level Drives Benefits Drawbacks
0 2+ Faster performance No redundancy
1 2+ 100% redundancy Half the total capacity
5 3+ Speed + redundancy Overall capacity reduced
6 4+ High redundancy Complex, slower writes

For media storage, RAID 1, 5 or 6 is recommended to prevent data loss if a drive fails. RAID 0 gives better speed, but no protection.

Drive Interface and Connectivity

Most NAS units use SATA III interfaces to connect drives internally. For best performance, look for models with cutting edge M.2 NVMe SSD slots.

Externally, your media server should have a fast network connection like:

  • 10GbE ethernet
  • Thunderbolt 3

This ensures fast transfers from the storage to playback clients. Older 100Mbps networks will bottleneck high bitrate 4K streams.

Warranties and Reliability

Storing your precious photos and home videos requires drives you can count on. Some signs of reliability:

  • Warranty length – Look for 3-5 years on NAS drives.
  • Workload rating – Annualized workload in TBs. Higher is better.
  • MTBF rating (mean time between failures) – 1 million hours is standard.

Additionally, consult real-world drive failure statistics to see actual reliability data from people who rack and stack drives similar to a media NAS.

the best media server hard drive

The Best Hard Drive for Media Servers

Now let’s look at some specific recommended HDD models and series that are well suited for media server storage based on the criteria discussed above:

WD Red Plus NAS Hard Drive

Sale
Western Digital 10TB WD Red Plus NAS Internal Hard Drive HDD - 7200 RPM, SATA 6 Gb/s, CMR, 256 MB...
  • Available in capacities ranging from 1-14TB with support for up to 8 bays.Transfer Rate : up to 215MB/s
  • Supports up to 180 TB/yr workload rate Workload Rate is defined as the amount of user data transferred to or from the hard drive. Workload Rate is annualized (TB transferred ✕ (8760 / recorded power-on hours)). Workload Rate will vary depending on your hardware and software components and configurations.
  • NASware firmware for compatibility
  • Small or medium business NAS systems in a 24x7 environment
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

  • Available from 1TB up to 14TB
  • 7200 RPM with 64MB cache
  • 180TB/yr workload rating
  • 3 year warranty
  • Very good performance/value balance

Cons:

  • Max of 8 supported bays

Ideal For: Smaller media servers

Price Per TB: Around $20-25/TB

The Red Plus offers a compelling blend of capacity, performance, and value for general media storage needs. Models up to 14TB give you room to grow.

WD Red Pro NAS Hard Drive

WD Red Pro 2TB NAS Hard Disk Drive - 7200 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch - WD2001FFSX (Renewed)...
  • Supports up to 300TB/yr workload rate(2) | (2) Workload Rate is defined as the amount of user data transferred to or from the hard drive. Workload Rate is annualized (TB transferred ✕ (8760 / recorded power-on hours)). Workload Rate will vary depending on your hardware and software components and configurations.
  • Enhanced reliability with 3D Active Balance Plus technology and error recovery controls with NASware 3.0 technology
  • Extended drive testing to ensure each drive is tested for extended reliable operation
  • 1 Year Warranty
  • Zero Power on Hours

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

  • Scales from 2TB up to massive 18TB
  • 7200RPM with 128MB cache
  • 300TB/year workload rating
  • 5 year warranty
  • Support for up to 24 bays

Cons:

  • Higher cost per terabyte

Ideal For: Larger media NAS with room to expand

Price Per TB: Around $25-35/TB

The Red Pro series builds on the standard Red drives, with boosted performance and support for more drive bays to provide data protection via RAID.

Seagate IronWolf NAS Hard Drive

Sale
Seagate IronWolf 12TB NAS Internal Hard Drive HDD – 3.5 Inch SATA 6Gb/s 7200 RPM 256MB Cache for...
  • IronWolf internal hard drives are the ideal solution for up to 8-bay, multi-user NAS environments craving powerhouse performance.Data Transfer Rate:6Gbps.Specific_uses_for_product : Business, personal. Write speed : 240 gigabytes_per_second.Operating temperature (max °C) : 65°C (Drive Reported Temperature)
  • Store more and work faster with a NAS-optimized hard drive providing ultra-high capacity 12TB and cache of up to 256MB
  • Purpose built for NAS enclosures, IronWolf delivers less wear and tear, little to no noise/vibration, no lags or down time, increased file-sharing performance, and much more
  • Easily monitor the health of drives using the integrated IronWolf Health Management system and enjoy long-term reliability with 1M hours MTBF
  • Five-year limited product warranty protection plan and three year Rescue Data Recovery Services included

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

  • Capacities from 1TB to 14TB
  • Up to 240MB/s speeds
  • 180TB/yr workload rating
  • 3 year warranty
  • Competitively priced

Cons:

  • Limited to 8 bay support

Ideal For: Cost-conscious media NAS builders

Price Per TB: Around $20-30/TB

Seagate’s IronWolf NAS drive provides an affordable alternative to the WD Red series with good performance and capacities.

Synology HAT5300-8T

Synology Enterprise 3.5" SATA HDD HAT5310 8TB
  • For demanding 24/7 environments, rated for up to 2.5million hours MTTF and up to 550 TB per year workloads
  • Stringent validation and up to 500,000 hours of tests ensures maximum reliability in Synology systems
  • Get automatic firmware updates together through DSM updates, reducing the need for additional maintenance sessions
  • HAT5300 series drives should only be used with Synology storage devices. The limited hardware warranty on the HAT5300 drive does not cover usage of the drive on non-validated devices
  • 5-year warranty

Last update on 2024-04-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros:

  • Hybrid SSD cache drive
  • 8TB capacity
  • Massive 550K IOPS speed
  • 5 year warranty

Cons:

  • High cost per terabyte
  • Cache not ideal for primary media storage

Ideal For: Accelerating a NAS media server

Price Per TB: Around $140/TB

The HAT5300 is optimized as a NAS cache drive. While too pricey for bulk storage, it can dramatically boost speeds when configured as a cache.

In conclusion

Selecting the right hard drive for hosting media libraries on a NAS comes down to finding the best fit considering capacity needs, reliability, warranty coverage, performance, and budget. For most home media servers, NAS-specific drives like the WD Red Plus offer a compelling blend of attributes like capacity, speed, durability, and value. By considering the criteria laid out in this guide, you can pick out the perfect storage to get your media server up and running.

So in summary, the key guidelines for choosing media server drives are:

  • Favor HDDs over SSDs due to lower cost per terabyte
  • Look for NAS or enterprise-class drives over desktop models
  • Prioritize drives with 7200RPM speed, 64MB cache, 150MB/s+ transfer rates
  • Choose larger capacities than you need today for future growth
  • Use RAID 1, 5 or 6 for redundancy to protect your precious data
  • Target drives with 3-5 year warranties rated for 24/7 operation
  • Performance matters, but avoid overspending on cutting edge speeds

Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to hosting your media library on a fast and reliable storage platform purpose-built to deliver a superb streaming media experience.