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How to find a right hard drive?

Hitachi, Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate, Fujitsu, Toshiba...

The most important thing for the users concerned about choosing a hard drive is to be certain that their valuable data wouldn't be lost sometime. Most hard drives from all manufacturers are comparable in reliability. There is no point to dispute that Seagate is more reliable than Western Digital or Maxtor fails less than Samsung, unless you have used hundreds of hard drives and have a sufficient experience. As there is no point to advice somebody with a particular model if he or she has experienced hard drive failure even one time and has come to a definite conclusion. Of course, the reliability of a hard drive depends on the characteristics of the drive itself, but also, on how appropriately the drive is used. Wrong data storage environment (heat, vibration, dust, smoke) makes it less reliable. Making a careful decision about hard drive means longer working life for it.

When you are about to buy a new hard drive, you should consider a number of factors:

- Capacity
- Interface Speed
- Rotational Speed
- Seek Time
- Buffer Size


Nowadays, a hard disk might store up to 750 GB of data. You know your budget better than anyone else. You should understand how much storage you can reasonably afford. Also, your capacity requirement is resulting from the amount of data you need to store:

Multimedia projects, large graphic files, professional video, animations, large photo or music archive or library and video: 250-500GB.

Digital photos and music, graphics files, entry-level video projects: up to 160GB.

Spreadsheets, e-mails and basic word-processing documents: 80-100GB.

Interface Speed.

Now, there are a few different types of electrical interface buses to interconnect the hard drive with the PC's motherboard. The most common interface is the IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) bus, more known as the ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment) interface. Now it has newest version Serial ATA. This serial version supports all the regular ATA functions but uses an interface cable with only 7 wires (parallel ATA IDE has 40 wires). The second most common electrical interface is the SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) bus. The speed of an interface is not the same thing as the speed of a hard disk. The interface speed indicates the maximum amount of data in megabytes per second that can be transmitted from a hard drive by interface. There are a number of speeds available for IDE ranging from ATA/33 to ATA/133. An ATA/100 interface can support 100 MB/sec. SCSI interfaces provide faster data transmission rates than ATA standard and are used for high performance drive arrays and server systems. Furthermore, you can attach many drives to a single SCSI port, so that SCSI is real an input/output bus. To get the maximum performance from your hard drive, its interface speed must match the interface speed of your PC.

Internal Interface types: ATA /IDE, SATA, Ultra ATA/SATA, SCSI, Ultra SCSI/Serial SCSI.

External Interface types: SATA, SCSI, Serial SCSI, Fibre Channel, Firewire, USB.

Rotational Speed.

The important hard drive feature is rotational speed, or RPM (revolutions per minute). The higher the RPM (the hard drive spins faster), the more or faster the data can be read and written from/to the platters of the drive in a fixed amount of time. RPM standards range from about 5,400 RPM to 15,000 RPM and above. Most home computers' hard drives rotating with a speed of 7,200 RPM. RPM is more important if you use a PC for video or multimedia applications. For the tasks such as word processing or web surfing, RPM does not make a noticeable difference. Higher rotational speed can have an impact on performance of your hard drive. The most recent hard disks, with a speed of 10000-15000 RPM, heat up during their work, and the temperature inside the disk rises up to 60 C. You should remember that the overheating is critical for a hard drive.

Seek Time.

That is one of the most important hard drive performance specifications. Seek Time is the amount of time required for the read/write heads to move between tracks over the surfaces of the platters (measured in milliseconds) or in other words, how fast the hard drive can find a particular data. Most hard drive seek times are listed as between 14 ms and 4 ms (lower number means higher performance). Seek time of 8-10 ms is perfectly acceptable.

Buffer Size.

The buffer is a memory cache on the drive where the recently read data is temporarily stored and may be required in the near future by a processor command. Using cache memory instead of direct access to the data on the hard drive improves the performance of the drive by reducing the physical access to the drive for recurring reads. The latest drives for desktop PCs have buffers at least 2MB, more than sufficient for typical use. Great amount of buffer can significantly improve the processing speed by providing faster access to data on the hard drive.

The final factor that alters the performance of a hard drive is the proper system configuration, since computer systems are complex of all of its components interacting with the hard drive.

Remember that any hard drive is more reliable than the human being who operates them. If you have never lost data through your own mistakes, then you have probably never used a computer. The hardware failure by itself is the last one on the list of data loss causes preceded by user error, virus attacks, and software error.

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