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Computer Components: What is the Hard Drive?

written by: heatherlorrmay•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 9/19/2008

The hard drive is probably one of the most well known components inside the computer, but do you really understand what a hard drive is?

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    Hard Drives

     

    Anyone who uses a computer probably has a little understanding of what a hard drive is.  Even if the only thing you know about your computer is the size of your hard drive, you probably understand that the hard drive is where all the software programs and data stays even when the power is off.  Many people choose and purchase their computer based solely on hard drive space.  In fact, if you think about it, you probably purchased your last computer based upon the size of the hard drive installed.

    Most people rush out and purchase a new computer when their hard drive fills up.  Today’s top-of-the line software can require 20 gigabytes of available space just for the software program, so hard drives are filling up quite quickly.  You can purchase hard drives that connect to your computer through your USB or Firewire port and quickly upgrade your hard drive storage capacity, but if you get tired of having cables everywhere you may want to consider installing a new hard drive inside your computer.  Upgrading a computer’s hard drive is actually one of the easiest upgrades you can complete.  Most desktop computers actually have space inside the case for at least one additional hard drive, which means you can add an additional hard drive without needing to reinstall your software.  

    If you do decide to purchase a hard drive you will find that your new hard drive really looks like a little box that has a connector at one end.  Hard drives are sold in a sealed case that does not allow you to remove or touch any of the components inside.  Be very careful when handling a hard drive because the components inside the hard drive case are very delicate and thin and sometimes cases are not manufactured well.  Many people will recommend that you only touch a hard drive case on the short ends which have stronger reinforcements, because if you squeeze the case you could actually scratch the platters and destroy the hard drive.

    Do not let curiosity get the best of you and allow you to pry open the case as you will ruin your new hard drive.  But if you really are curious, what you would find is something that looks similar to a record player.  The platters look very similar to vinyl records (or CD media if you don’t remember vinyl records) and are read and recorded to by the head which of course has the appearance of the needle from the record player.  Today’s hard drives usually have three to five platters that can store data on each side while larger drives can have twice as many platters.

    These hard drive platters are held in place by spindles and have a thin coating of magnetic material.  It is on this magnetic material that the data you store in your hard drive is held and written in microscopic zeros and ones.  This magnetic material can be damaged quite easily; even a speck of dust can destroy a platter and corrupt your data.  Thus be careful when handling a new hard drive.  

    Hard drives continue to get smaller and smaller while increasing their data storage capacity because technology advances allow hard drive manufacturers to shrink the space taken up on a platter by the written data and also by making the physical platters smaller and smaller.  Manufacturing costs keep the current standard size for a hard drive around the 100 to 500 gigabyte range, while the largest drives currently available top out at over 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes).

    Over all, the hard drive is one of the most important parts of your computer today. If you did not have a hard drive you would not be able to store all your email and photos in your computer.  If we did not have hard drives, we would not have the internet- it is that important.

    Understanding your computer:

    >>>>What is the Motherboard?

    >>>>What is CPU?

    >>>>What is the Video Display?

    >>>>What is RAM?

    >>>>What is the Video Card?

    >>>>What is the CD-Rom/DVD?

    >>>>What is USB?