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Hard Disk Drive Terminology: Understanding Tech Specs

A hard drive is a vital component in your computer because it stores all your data. The problem is that they only have limited space and will fill up fast depending on the type and size of the files that you keep (for example, a drive storing a lot of HD video will be more full than one that primarily has word documents). As such, there will likely come a time when you may need to upgrade the drive and go buy a new one, either to replace the original or to be in addition to. In fact, the hard drive is probably the most commonly replaced part of a computer.

Brands like Western Digital, Toshiba and Samsung all produce their own hard drives. It can be quite confusing when buying to understand exactly what all the technical specifications mean. First, it’s important that you are looking at the size you need. There are generally two sizes: 3.5 inch which is suitable for desktop computers and 2.5 inch that is for laptops (although the drives on the latter are not as easy to replace). You can also get external hard drives, but the size of these can vary since they do not have to physically fit inside a slot, but rather attach via USB.

As mentioned earlier, when getting a hard drive you want to make sure that you will have enough space for all your data. Hard drives are measured in Gigabytes (GB) and Terabytes (TB), with 1000 GB being equal to 1 TB. How much you need will depend on what you store, but if you are only looking at general photo, music and games storage then 250 GB would probably satisfy. However, if you need higher capacity, perhaps for things such as HD video, then it will be worth investing in a drive that can hold more.

Another technical specification that is important is the rotational speed of the drive, which is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). This figure means how fast the drive will be able to read and write data – the higher the figure, the quicker it is. Average desktop drives will spin at 7200 rpm and this is the best for the average consumer. Enthusiasts and businesses will probably look at something towards 10000 rpm to deal with the extra load. It is noteworthy that the higher the rpm the more likely the drive is to fail due to the increased strain.

There is also something called the interface. Most drives now use a SATA interface, which has a maximum transfer rate of either 150 MB or 300 MB per second (although such a rate is more suited to RAID). There are also PATA drives, which are less common but still available to buy. These have maximum transfer rates of 100 MB or 133 MB per second. The drives will rarely reach those values, but it is probably best to go with a SATA interface as it is more widely used.

Average seek speed is also another measure and it is how fast a drive will locate a certain piece of data. However, unless the drive is bringing together lots of small data from all over the drive, typical use will not see much benefit from having a higher seek speed.


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