Hard drive buying guide

We walk you through the process of buying a new hard drive, and explain all the jargon: from network-attached storage to solid-stated drives

Hard drives can be found in all sorts of products — PCs, digital video recorders (DVR), camcorders and MP3 players, for example. The hard drive is one of the most important components for PCs, as it provides permanent, large-scale storage for a user's documents, pictures, videos and other data.It's also where the operating system and programs are stored. Unlike memory (RAM), hard drives retain information even when the PC is powered off.

If you're buying or building a new PC, or have simply run out of space on your existing PC and need to boost your storage capacity, knowing what to look for in a hard disk is vital.

How do hard drives work?

First employed commercially in the 1950s, a conventional hard disk comprises one or more circular platters of magnetic material, with billions of microscopic magnetic domains, each representing one bit of data. These zones are embedded into concentric circles, called tracks. A read/write head floats above the tracks, and the magnetic flux patterns of the zones affects an electric current flowing through the head, which in turn registers as a "0" or a "1" to the drive's electronics. The head can also alter the magnetic patterns, to write data onto the disk.

When in operation, an electric motor spins the hard disk constantly, rather like an LP or CD, in order to bring the data on the tracks around to the head. The head moves across the surface of the disk, to position it above the track on which the desired data is stored. The head will then wait for the rotation of the disk to bring the data around.

A "hard disk", as we understand it today, will usually comprise multiple platters (typically between two to four in a standard consumer hard disk). Modern hard disks can vary in size from 1in wide for smaller personal media players to the more commonly available 3.5in hard drives for desktop computers.

What is a solid-state drive?

A recent trend in the storage market has seen a slow shift toward a new type of permanent storage: the solid-state drive (SSD). Unlike hard drives, which have moving parts and are more prone to being damaged if dropped or bumped, solid-state drives don't need magnetic plates and hard drive heads.

These drives work by employing solid-state SRAM or DRAM memory to store information, like the memory modules which make up the RAM in a computer. However, unlike RAM, which loses its stored information every time a computer restarts or shuts down, an SSD uses non-volatile memory.

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PC World Staff

PC World
Topics: solid-state drives, network-attached storage, hard drives, buying guide, storage

Comments

Old Bob

1

FAT32 file system

The Hard Drive Buying Guide incorrectly states that FAT32 has a limit of 32GB.

FAT32 theoretically has a limit of 2TB when using 512 byte sectors. Any other size limitations less than this are due to any combination of hardware, Operating System (OS) or OS utility implementation limitations. Windows 95, 98 and ME could use a maximum FAT32 partiton of 127.53GB. Even this limit could be exceeded in some circumstances which I will not detail here. These limits were rarely a problem because of disk size limitations.

Windows 200 and XP limit to 32GB, partitions of their own creation but will use FAT32 partitons of ANY size if created by third party programs. Microsoft imposed the 32GB partiton size creation limitation because of FAT32 performance problems which could have become a serious problem with the larger disk drives that were becoming available.

My reference is Wikipedia but there are many other references available for the searching.

Despite this "error" I found the Hard Drive Buying Guide excellent and will recommend it to others.

Comments are now closed.

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