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Internal Hard Drives

Internal Hard Drive Buying Guide
I think most people out there know what a hard drive ...
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Internal Hard Drive Buying Guide

I think most people out there know what a hard drive is right? It's the thing inside of your computer that stores all of your precious data, games and most likely the operating system on. You could have more than one hard drive in your computer though depending on how much stuff you have and what you do with your computer. There's chip based memory in your computer, but that gets erased usually when you power down, the hard drive is the real memory of your computer as it stores everything on it, it could be likened to the brain of your computer.

Depending on what type of computer you use, you may have one of a few types of hard drives in your computer, if you've got a laptop you could have a 2.5”, 1.8” or maybe even an SSD or Solid State Drive inside. If you have a desktop computer then you most likely have a 3.5” sized hard drive in it as that is the most common for desktop style computers.

There are actually several different physical sizes of hard drives available out there today. The 5.25” sized hard drive is all but gone since the 1990s in favor of the 3.5”, which is the most common size today.

You can get hard drives sized:
3.5” - 4 in × 1 in × 5.75 in (101.6 mm × 25.4 mm × 146 mm)
2.5” - 2.75 in × 0.374–0.59 in × 3.945 in (69.85 mm × 9.5–15 mm × 100 mm)
1.8” - 54 mm × 8 mm × 71 mm
1.3” or 1” - 42.8 mm × 5 mm × 36.4 mm
and .85” - 24 mm × 5 mm × 32 mm
(The .85” drive is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest hard disk drive.)

The 1.8”, 1” and .85” drives are what you might find in mp3 players, and other types of portable devices including cameras and even cellphones. There aren't many cellphones today capable of using them since flash storage prices have dropped and their capacities have risen, the use of the .85” disk for cellphones is all but obsolete.

3.5” and 2.5” hard drives pretty much all look the same on the outside, but inside they can differ greatly in their speeds and how they record data.

3.5” Hard Drive speeds: You most likely have a 7200RPM hard drive inside of your computer, these are the most common speeds these days, but you could have a 5400RPM or maybe even a 10,000RPM hard drive in there depending on how old or new the computer is.

10,000 RPM hard drives for the desktop are fairly expensive compared to 7200RPM and are usually found inside of enthusiast computers where the speed is needed for maximum performance. 10,000RPM drives were reserved for servers only with the SCSI interface but a few years ago Western Digital came out with the Raptor line of SATA based 10,000 RPM drives for the consumer.

There is also the 15,000 RPM, or Enterprise class of drives, but these are rarely, if ever, seen in a consumer PC unless the end user puts them in, these are generally used in servers only. The Enterprise class of hard drives can also be 10,000 RPM as well.

5400RPM drives are still around and desired for their low sound levels and mostly found in home theater PCs where you don't want to hear a hard drive rattling while watching a movie, 5400RPM drives usually generate less heat as well so they make great storage for HTPCs and PVRs as they don't require extra fans to keep them cool, meaning less noise overall.

2.5” Hard Drive speeds: Most laptops have 5400RPM 2.5” hard drives in them, but in the last few years 7200RPM 2.5” hard drives have been introduced and higher end laptops will have these in them. Most companies do offer the option of the 7200RPM hard drive when ordering your laptop, of course though you'll pay a premium for the extra speed.

Hard drives today also can record in two different ways, Longitudinal and Perpendicular.
For longitudinal you can think of dominoes lying on their backs end to end, these dominoes are the individual bits of data on the hard disk platter. A few years ago perpendicular hard drives were introduced, for this type you can think of the dominoes standing up side by side as the bits of data. The main difference between them is that with perpendicular type drives you can fit more data on them, than you can with the longitudinal style of recording. The examples I've given are of course very basic, and there's plenty of information available online if you wish to look into these types a bit more for yourself. Through perpendicular or PMR technology we now have 1.5TB hard disks available to us and I'm sure that will grow and grow. There is a slight performance increase as well when using a perpendicular disk, but it's negligible really unless your system demands or needs the highest performance possible, the average consumer would never notice a difference between the two types.

Interfaces:
Consumer hard drives, be them 2.5” or 3.5” can have either and ATA/PATA (yes that's just one type!), more commonly known as IDE/EIDE or they can have an SATA interface to connect to the computer to transfer data to and from the drive.

SATA or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment drives are becoming the standard now, IDE drives are still there but they are being phased out in favor of the SATA connection. SATA uses serial data transfer while IDE uses parallel style transfer, the main advantage is that serial is faster.

There are a few reasons to move to SATA drives, number one being speed, and here of course we come to the fact that there are two types of SATA drives as well, SATA1.5 and SATA3.0, the numbers after the names signify the speeds or the data transfer rates. (There is also an SATA6.0 on the horizon as well which obviously will offer a large performance increase over the current standards.)

The second reason SATA has become popular is for it's ability to be 'hot-swapped' or removed and replaced while it's powered on, you can easily add or remove an SATA drive to your system without having to turn the computer off. The Hot Swap feature is only available when the operating system and hardware supports it though.

The third reason for using an SATA drive is cable management, the SATA drive uses a very thin cable for data transfer that allows for better airflow inside of the case and the cables can easily be tucked away and hidden from view if need be.

The fourth reason, and it's debatable, is that they are more reliable, though I'm not quite sure where the basis of this information comes from (most likely manufacturing propaganda). You'll find several arguments both ways for SATA being more reliable than IDE, so take it as you will.

As a side note even optical drives are moving away from IDE connections in favor of the SATA connection.

When buying a product I'd normally suggest checking reviews of the products, but hard drives aren't something that you'll see reviewed often, unless it's something special like a new technology or type of drive on the market. You can find them though out there if you look, but just not as many as any other piece of hardware.

When I'm in the market for a hard drive I go by recommendations of other users like me as to what brand is the most reliable, and that's the main thing I look for in a hard drive, reliability. It can be the fastest, biggest hard drive out there, but if it has a high failure rate then I don't want it, I've had several hard drives fail on me over the years and trust me it's not something you ever want to go though. Regarding hard drive failure, remember one thing, it's not IF, it's WHEN the hard drive fails, every hard drive will fail eventually and you've got to do backups religiously if you wish to save yourself possible heartache and a big headache from the loss of your data.

Over the years I've had several hard drives fail on me, and I've used all of the major brands, I've personally seen no correlation between the failures and the manufacturer. Other people will disagree with me of course, I know many people are brand specific when it comes to hard drives and no matter what they'll only buy one brand of hard drive because they believe that brand is the best overall. So it comes down to preference and price really, at this point I have no preference except for cheaper is better.

One last thing is the warranty, when your hard drive dies at least you might get some consolation in the fact that you could get a new drive if it's still under warranty. Most manufacturers now have a five year warranty on their hard drives and you're able to check the status of your warranty online at the manufacturers site usually.

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