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What Is a Hard Disk Drive?

Beginners Guide

What Is a Hard Disk Drive? Beginners Guide


Your Hard Disk or sometimes called a Hard Drive, is the main storage space inside your PC. It is a permanent storage component unlike the RAM (Random Access Memory). It is possible for your computer to function without a hard disk, however it would be basically useless to you as you would not be able to use an Operating system or have any programs to use. Unless you had another form of mass storage device such as an SSD (Solid State Drive).

Hard disks use circular hard platters to store data on. They are in pristine condition with a mirror like finish to them. These platters are locked away inside a steel casing as unclean air can easily ruin a hard disk. This is why you should never remove the casing from the hard disk, it is very unlikely you will be able to put it back together as a working component. Even a small amount of dust can render a hard disk platter useless.

Below you can see a labelled diagram of a hard disk. The model is a SCSI (Small Computer Scientific Interface) You can see the hard platters on top of each other with a set of arms which hold the read/write head. The speed of the arm is truly amazing as well as the accuracy of the head which can read and write to perfection on a platter which is rotating around 7200RPM. The hard disk looks a very simple idea and probably is, however a lot goes on before the simple writing to the disk its self.

How does the hard disk store data?


On each of the platters there is a thin layer of magnetic film. Data storage on hard disks is very similar to that of a cassette tape. Data is stored in many 1's and 0's stored in different directions on the magnetic film by using a very fine oxide. These binary digits are arranged in different ways to represent different characters. When these are read back by the head the data is retrieved and processed. because no physical contact with the platters is made the disk can be re-written time and time again without damage to the disk or its platters.

File Systems
A file system is the way in which your computer stores data on the hard disk. The most common file systems are FAT16 for older computers, FAT32 and NTFS. FAT stands for File Allocation Table. NTFS stands forNT File System. Both have advantages and disadvantages. FAT16 was a very limited file system in the way that it would store data very in-efficiently, every file would take up a minimum of 32Kb in space as this was the minimum cluster size in a FAT16 system. Also it was only capable of using hard disks up to 2Gb in size. FAT32 solved this problem by reducing the cluster size to 4kb which saved a lot of wasted space and also allowed disk sizes up to 2 Terra bytes. NTFS is believed to be a far greater file systems than any of the FAT's. The cluster sizes can be altered to anything as low as 512bytes which means almost no wasted space on the hard disk. The maximum disk size is a unbelievable 256 Terra bytes, which is very big !!!. NTFS also has added security for file loss.

Measuring the Speed of a Hard Disk


There are various ways of measuring the speed of the hard disk. The main ones are the maximum data transfer rate, the spindle rotation speed and the seek time. Maximum Transfer Rate - This is the highest amount of data that can be transferred per second. Common forms of hard disks come with an ATA format. the speed rating of an ATA100 disk would be 100Mb/s. Likewise a ATA66 disk would be able to transfer a maximum of 66Mb/s. Past the older ATA standard just mentioned comes the newer S-ATA standard (serialATA). S-ATA 1.0 transfers at a max rate of 1.5Gb/s S-ATA 2.0 transfers at a max rate of 3Gb/s and S-ATA 3.0 can tranfer data a maximum rate of 6Gb/s

Spindle Rotation Speed - The rotation speed of the disk really is the basis of the other two factors of hard disk speed. The faster the rotation speed, the more data can be written per second and the quicker it is to find the correct data on the platter. A Common speed is 7200RPM (revolutions per minute) Seek Time - The seek time of a hard disk is the average time it takes for the disk to find the data you need on the platters. A fast spinning, highly accurate and responsive disk will have a shorter seek time and will perform much better, especially when the data is scattered around the disk. Seek time is measured in milliseconds or ms.

Disk Fragmentation
All versions of Windows come with a disk defragmenter. But what exactly is fragmentation? As you use your computer daily files get written and deleted constantly from the disk, either by yourself or by the operating system creating and removing temporary files. This process leave the disk in no sort of order and when new file are written to the disk they start to get written in the gaps on the disk. The fact that single files are written in different parts of the disk means that the disk has to go round the disk reading different parts instead of just streaming the data straight off the disk. This is called Fragmentation. The defrag program within windows sorts out the files into order again to make the disk perform faster.

Connection Types
There are currently 4 connections for a hard disk. IDE (or ATA) SCSI, Serial ATA and USB. The most common is the IDE interface. This provides an 80 pin connection to most standard motherboards and you can't normally go wrong buying an IDE drive for your machine. SCSI connections often require extra hardware unless its built into your motherboard. SCSI hard disks are often faster but more expensive than there IDE counterparts. Serial ATA does away with parallel data transfer which has its problem of large wires and electrical interference. The Serial ATA standard is more reliable and uses smaller un-obtrusive wires. Smaller wires also means better air flow for your case. Serial ATA hard drives can also work faster at a higher data throughput giving your overall system a speed boost. The final connection type is the USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection. This connection is used for connecting external hard drives to your machine. While not as fast as the internal Serial ATA connection, it has the usefulness of being able to disconnect easily from the PC and taken to another PC and plugged straight in. Perfect for storing a lot of files to be used on multiple computers.

IDE

SCSI

Serial ATA

USB