Hard drives have been around longer than you think. In 1956, I. B. M. had invented a disk storage unit that was very large but did not store a lot of data. It was twenty-four inches in diameter and could hold only five megabytes, which is the equivalent to three and one half floppy disks.
Originally called fixed disks later became known as hard disks opposed to floppy disks. In 1973, I. B. M. released a hard drive that could hold seventeen and one half megabytes. In 1980 Seagate made the first five and one quarter inch hard disk.
In the late 1980s, three and one half inch hard disks were invented (PCIN).
Although there are smaller hard disks as small as two inches in diameter, three and one half inch hard disks have been made a standard and is used most often today. The capacity in hard drives has excelled thousands of times all over from five megabytes to one hundred sixty gigabytes (160,000 megabytes) which is the equivalent to one hundred eleven thousand one hundred eleven floppy disks. The hard drive or hard disk is one of the most critical components in the operation of a computer. It is also one of the only moving parts in the computer. Sadly, many people do not know the important role it has in the storage of their data or how it even works. When you think of your hard drive, think of it as the computers electronic filing cabinet.
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Everything you load, download, or save is stored on the hard drive. In fact, ten percent of your hard drive is already used when you purchase your computer because it needs certain system operating files that are required to make the basics work. Everything you add later such as word processors, antivirus software, e-mail software, games, and internet software are extra, soon leading to an over stuffed filing cabinet (Matthew Ferrara Seminars).
However, many people ask, What is the hard drive, physically? The hard drive can be commonly referred to as a box. That is what it looks like, a three and one half inch metal box. It is located inside your mainframe or tower. It sits in what is called a drive bay.
Here it is secured with screws. On the bottom of the hard drive is a chip board which is the really technical and complicated pieces of the hard drive. On the back there are groups of pins, three groups. One group has 40 small pins which is where the data cable plugs into. The second group there is a set of five or six pins, these are used to control and identify where the hard drive fits into the great scheme of things in the computer. It is set as master or slave.
Most single hard disk computers are set to master. Usually your computer sees it as C drive. A jumper, which is a little plastic cap, is used to connect certain pins accordingly. The last group of pins is where the power cable plugs into. There are four thick pins here (Dustys World).
So what is inside this box? A rare few have seen the inside of a hard drive. Inside is a clean, sterile environment sealed off from all light and dust.
If you were to open the cover of the hard drive, you will expose it to all these elements, ultimately ruining the drive (Dustys World).
The first thing that is very noticeable is the stack of round, very shiny, electro-magnetically charged metallic disks called platters (Marshall).
This is where your data is physically stored. The surfaces of these platters are divided into cylinders, tracks, and sectors. These are the coordinates that are used to locate data on the platters. In the middle of these platters is the spindle. This keeps the disks in constant circular motion.
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Drives are often categorized by how fast they spin, this is measured in RPM (Revolutions Per Minute).
The average hard disk spins in between 5400-7200 RPM. A SCSI (Small Computer System Interface), pronounced scuzzy, hard drive can spin up to 15000 RPM, which is twice as fast as the engine in your car could ever go (Smart Computing).
This very fast type of drive is mostly used in web servers where the speed is needed. Data is written and retrieved through a very small magnet called the read/write head. There is a head on the top and bottom of each platter. These heads are attached to the access arm.
This extends the magnets out over the platters so it can access all areas of the drive. The access arm is attached to a device called the head actuator. This device uses a magnet, like a motor, to turn forty-five degrees to each side which in turn moves the access arm and the read/write head on the platter (Smart Computing).
The speed of these three parts is measured in milliseconds called the average seek time. This is the average time that the read/write head takes to reposition itself and move from one sector to another. On most new drives, the average seek time is nine milliseconds (Marshall).
From this point, all the data is send back and forth through the data cable to your motherboard. The fact that these are physical parts created a problem. The rest of your machine transfers data electrically, but your hard drive does not. Engineers have developed a technology called Ultra DMA (Direct Memory Access) to overcome the speed bottleneck. The RAM (Random Access Memory) in your computer is faster than your hard drive, so this provides a direct link in between the two. It can pre-fetch data at rates of thirty-three to one hundred thirty-three megabytes per second (Smart Computing).
Over time, your hard drive has read and wrote millions of times, this can potentially leave gaps in the organization of your data.
This is called fragmentation. Most operating systems such as Windows come with a program to defragment your drive. This reorganizes the data so that it is in order. That means that your disk and read/write head doesnt have to travel as far to access data. This in turn can speed up your system (Smart Computing).
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The organization of your data is important in order to have a stable system. There is a very important part of the hard drive that is vital in order to do anything.
It is called the MBR (Master Boot Record).
When you turn on your machine, the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) does its tests, then it passes control over to the MBR. This is located in the first sector of your hard drive. This is where your operating system stores information to load itself (PCIN).
Many viruses often attack this part of the drive because with out it, the hard drive is useless. You will have to format the drive, which means you clean it off and start fresh.
Another part of the file system is the FAT (File Allocation Table) this organizes data into clusters which are basically blocks of data. There are to kinds of FAT. There is FAT16 and FAT32. Older drives used to use FAT16, but drives became bigger and bigger in size and could no longer use FAT16 efficiently, so they made FAT32, which is faster and allows for more space (Powerload).
Just like any electronic device, they can fail. It is important to maintain your hard drive in order to predict and prevent failure. Doing regular tests and diagnostics should ensure a healthy drive. Also listen for funny noises or odd errors in your machine and remember to always make backup of your important data, after all, it is better to be safe than sorry!.