What’s the difference between 5400 and 7200 RPM hard drives?

If you're trying to decide between a 5400 RPM and a 7200 RPM hard drive, in this guide, we'll see the difference between the two and when you should get each one.

Hard drive for computer and NAS
Hard drive for computer and NAS

If you plan to build a Network-attached Storage (NAS), a new computer, or upgrade your system’s hard drive (HDD), it is crucial to understand the differences between 5400 and 7200 RPM hard drives.

The hard drive’s performance is measured by the speed at which the data can transfer from the platters storing the bits to the computer (known as data throughput). Typically, the higher the density of the platters and revolutions per minute translates into higher performance. However, it does not mean you should ignore a storage drive spinning a lower RPM.

5400 RPM vs. 7200 RPM

Although nowadays, you can find hard drives spinning up to 15000 RPM, the most popular ones for desktops and laptops are between 5400 and 7200 RPM.

Historically rotating platters hard drives operating at 7200 RPM offer faster reads and write speeds and are more suited to run an operating system, execute programs quicker, and transfer files.

The caveat is that they can be costly, generate more heat, consume more power, produce more noise, and their lifespan can turn out to be shorter than drives spinning at lower revolutions.

Then there are the drives that spin at 5400 RPM, and as expected, they offer slower file transfer speed, but they use less power (therefore less heat and quieter) and are less expensive. While immediately, most people will ignore these drives, they’re a good choice for storing large files and backups.

Although 7200 RPM hard drives are faster than 5400 RPM drives, 5400 RPM drives offer an average of 100 MB/s read and write speeds, while 7200 RPM drives deliver an average of 120 MB/s read and write speeds. If you are trying to choose, consider that both drives are virtually identical, but with the difference that a 7200 RPM drive is around 20 percent faster than a 5400 RPM drive.

If you want performance, consider the 7200 RPM hard drives. However, if the goal is to store files (for example, on a NAS or low-power server), consider the 5400 RPM drives.

Choosing hard drive

As for capacity and the brand you should get, it is up to your preference and what you have to accomplish. However, among the popular brands, you can find “Western Digital” and “Seagate,” and each brand offer different hard drives for each situation.

For example, if you want to add more storage or you are trying to build a new system, you may go for one of these hard drives:

Also, the Seagate BarraCuda 2TB is among the best-selling 7200 RPM internal hard drives, priced only at $50.

If you plan to build a NAS or add more capacity to the system to store files long-term, you should consider getting these hard drives:

If you plan to build a low-power server, it’s best to use 5400 RPM drives.

On the internet, you may be able to find many manufacturers, capacities, and technologies. These are just a few recommendations.

This guide is focused on traditional rotating platter hard drives as the focus here is on drives to store a large amount of data. Of course, hybrid drives and Solid State Drives (SSD) offer better performance, but they do not provide as much capacity and are still quite expensive.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.