A little under a year and a half ago, I bought a whopping 6.5GB big (at the time) Seagate Medalist to upgrade my system. At the time, I compromised on performance because of a tight budget. The drive served me well, and as planned, I migrated up to a hand-me-down PII 300 that my father had picked clean. Because it performed about as well as the drive in my PII 300 at the office, I never really gave a thought to trading it in for a faster model.
Then last week, while shopping for a gift for a three-year-old, I suddenly decided I wanted a new hard drive. This time, I was going to try for a high-performer—7200 rpm, over 20GB—as long as I could find one for less than $200. I knew from years of reading benchmark charts that IBM's Deskstar GXP series always did well in Pentium II systems; I'd also previously had models from Maxtor, Seagate, Quantum, and Western Digital, and was looking for some new blood.
I decided to check out the prices on computershopper.com on the latest models and work my way down until I found one that matched my criteria. I finally settled on the 20.3GB Deskstar 20GXP—not only would it run me under $200 (US$196.93, to be exact), including shipping, but it was in stock, so I could have it the next day. Yes, it's a relatively old model, but my PII 300 isn't exactly cutting edge.
Intellectually, I knew that a better hard drive would make a huge difference in my system's performance, but it didn't really hit me until the new drive was up and running. For example, my Internet connection is still 56K, but my Internet experience is tons faster. My advice: never underestimate the importance of all those tiny little files your browser caches, and how much faster they load with a better drive.
(Note: Users with older or less compatible systems may experience difficulties recognizing hard disks larger than 8.7GB. Also, the improvement obtained with 7,200rpm hard disks may vary with the amount of RAM in your system.)