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Hard Drives

Hard Drives Buying Guide

Not to be confused with RAM Memory, as many people do, th...
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Hard Drives Buying Guide

Not to be confused with RAM Memory, as many people do, the hard drive in your computer is where all of your software and files are saved and stored. In a desktop computer your hard drive will be a 3.5” drive where as in a notebook it will be the smaller 2.5” size. These hard drives are typically mechanical, but new technology advancements are allowing them to be made very similar to your USB flash drives. Although there isn't a whole lot of information to know when buying a hard drive there are a few very vital terms that will make shopping for a drive a lot less troublesome for you. Let me outline the different drive styles and terms for you.

Hard Disk Drives:
Although almost all hard drives are referred to by the general term of “hard disk”, the definition of a hard disk is actually a hard drive with a mechanically spinning storage platter – the disks. As mentioned in the introduction to this article, these are the kinds of hard drives that almost all computers have because they've been around since the early days of desktop computers. They are cheap to manufacturer and are available in a huge variety of capacities. First let me explain to you the different technologies and terms behind a mechanical hard disk drive.

Rotation Speed
With mechanical hard drives you will typically be presented with two different rotation speeds; 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM. Generally speaking, almost all notebook hard drives are 5400 RPM unless otherwise stated (and usually well advertised too). This is because the lower rotational speed will reduce the heat produced by the hard drive which is very beneficial in a tightly packed notebook. Some desktop drives are also available in 5400 RPM but these are usually marketed for reducing power usage or reducing overall drive acoustics. Although 5400 RPM drives do have the above mentioned pros, the major con is that they suffer from reduced performance. For this reason you will find 5400 RPM hard drives being used in less expensive and lower performance computers as well. This performance reduction is caused by the read/write heads not being able to access the data as fast as they can when the platters are spinning at 7200 RPM. Some manufactures are releasing “green” drives which will automatically adjust the rotation speed of the drive based on how much it's being used. This helps lower the power usage when the computer is in an idle state.

The capacity of the drive is pretty much straightforward because it simply means how much storage space it offers. Right now most notebook drives will max out at around 500 GigaByte, where as desktop hard drives are into the 1.5 TerraByte range (1,500 GigaByte) and climbing! As manufacturers are able to cram more storage space onto each platter in the drive we will only see the overall capacities continue to climb.

Hard drives in home computers will usually always be of two interface types; IDE or SATA. All new computers made after 2003 will typically use the faster SATA interface (unless you bought old stock, or a cheaper lower performance machine that still uses an IDE interface drive). Since SATA is a serial style of interface it offers greatly enhanced speed over the older parallel-style IDE (up to 300mbps (megabit per second) vs 133mbps). Remember that older computers or one’s using slightly older technology can not use the newer SATA interface hard drives, so when upgrading an existing machine be sure to use the correct interface type.

The buffer is almost like RAM, but for your hard drive. By means of RAM memory on a hard drive the drive will have a buffer that is usually 8 Meg or more. By using this buffer to store frequently used data, the drive can access it faster than seeking to it's position on the storage platters. The larger the buffer size, the more data it can store and thus the better performance it will offer.

Solid State Drives (or SSDs)
Solid State Drives, commonly referred to in short as SSD’s are the latest technology in hard drives. They share the same technology as your USB drives – flash memory chips. Not only are current SSD’s much smaller than traditional 3.5” drives but they are also more shock proof and use far less power due to the lack of mechanical parts. The downside to current SSD offerings is that they are expensive and you pay much more per gig than you do on a traditional hard disk drive. Although they are currently maxing out at a little over 200gb, these drives will soon be able to compete with mechanical drives in terms of overall storage. As more and more manufacturers are starting to incorporate SSD’s into their systems and more consumers start to jump on board this new revolution, the prices will start to considerably drop in the coming months and years (just look at how much flash drive prices drop every year!).

When you start shopping for hard drives you'll see that not very many spec’s are given. Your budget will usually determine the storage capacity size of the drive you are shopping for, but as long as you check out the important items such as IDE or the faster SATA interface, 5400 RPM or the faster 7200 RPM, and finally the amount of buffer memory, then you will have most of the information you will need. See if the drive has any other unique features versus it's competitors and your decision will come pretty fast!


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