An Excellent Question About Hard Drives
You're right Dave!!! The older hard drives from years gone by DID LAST LONGER. But when you consider how little data (Compared to today's drives) they held it begins to make since. I think that since the time when some guy set the first soldering iron to the first circuit board, millions upon millions of electrogadgetgeeks and electronics engineers have been trying to figure out how to hold more data in less space and make it faster and faster to access. My first hard drive was a whooping 20MB. (No one could ever use that much space!!!). But it was far better than storing my data and programs on a cassette tape.
Since the early 80's when we got off of recording tape and on to hard drives, miracles have happened in terms of size, capacity, and speed. I think the reason the older hard drives lasted longer is simply that they held less data and didn't have to work so hard as the computer industry has grown. If you look at the torture we put drives through today you'll start to get the idea. Today we run multiple programs simultaneously, use a portion of the hard drive for pagination (memory in excess of your RAM), and drives run at speeds up to 15,000 RPM. The same drive is storing 10,000-100,000 times more data than my old 20MB hard drive, and accessing the data I need in around 9 milliseconds.
But I think the biggest change you're referring to is when we made the switch from IDE type hard drives to SATA type hard drives. I think the same rules apply. In the newer SATA hard drives you're seeing up to 2 Terebytes of data compared to only a maximum of 25% of that on some of the best IDE drives. So the question when buying hard drives is really, "What is the most reliable" for me?
You mentioned in your question that you back up your data on a regular basis. To that I would say "Good for You". That is the only way you can be assured of redundancy of data in the event of a failure. When my customers come in I've begun the practice with the customer's permission of backing up every computer if it needs it or not. So on to my mostly humble opinion regarding your question.
First of all, we always back up our data. Any drive can and will eventually fail. Period. So if you want to safeguard your data, you need to develop a data back up program that works for you.
Second, regarding price is an interesting issue. You would think that a Black 500GB hard drive would be as good as the same companies Blue 500GB hard drive? Or Green, or some other configuration. But my experience with modern hard drives is that you get what you pay for. I stick pretty much with Western Digital Black hard drives. It's not their highest priced hard drive, but I have found them very dependable over the years. I'm not digging on other companies here, but I am making a statement of fact that I've had the best experience with Western Digital Black models.
There was a period over the recent past due to severe flooding of their plants, that hard drive prices went up considerably. At the same time, Solid State Drive prices started coming down. Of course, SATA drives are still considerably cheaper, but I believe these events placed the SSDs in the public eye in a big way. As for me, I recommend the SSDs if my customers can afford them. And again, I'd postulate that in this case you will once again get what you pay for. I stick exclusively with Intel for SSDs mainly because I've never had a problem with a single drive since I started using them about a year ago. If you shop around, you can grab a pretty nice 240GB hard drive for under $200.00. I can remember when the price per GB was about the same for IDE hard drives.
Why does the price vary so much with hard drives? I think hard drives are like anything else you see in the computer domain. There are companies that make a line of very high quality products with a higher price, and a lower quality product made with inferior components and older technology that they sell at a much lower price. Both product work, but the higher quality more expensive product should perform better and last longer. You should also get a better warranty with the higher priced product and perhaps, better service support.
I'd like to wish all of you out there in the CNET communities a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Joyful New Year. I'm so glad the Myans were wrong.