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What is a hard drive?
New York Data Recovery
Data Recovery in New York City - (888)-275-2684

Jan 31st, 2010 17:21
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The hard drive stores all the computer's information and retains the 
information when the computer is turned off. A fast hard drive is 
needed to supply the CPU with data as fast as it needs it. Hard drive 
sizes are typically measured in GigaBytes. The larger the number, the 
more applications and games you can have installed. 
Nearly every desktop computer and server in use today contains one or 
more hard-disk drives. Every mainframe and supercomputer is normally 
connected to hundreds of them. You can even find VCR-type devices and 
camcorders that use hard disks instead of tape. These billions of hard 
disks do one thing well -- they store changing digital information in 
a relatively permanent form. They give computers the ability to 
remember things when the power goes out. 
Hard disks were invented in the 1950s. They started as large disks up 
to 20 inches in diameter holding just a few megabytes. They were 
originally called "fixed disks" or "Winchesters" (a code name used for 
a popular IBM product). They later became known as "hard disks" to 
distinguish them from "floppy disks." Hard disks have a hard platter 
that holds the magnetic medium, as opposed to the flexible plastic 
film found in tapes and floppies. At the simplest level, a hard disk 
is not that different from a cassette tape. Both hard disks and 
cassette tapes use the same magnetic recording techniques described in 
How Tape Recorders Work. Hard disks and cassette tapes also share the 
major benefits of magnetic storage -- the magnetic medium can be 
easily erased and rewritten, and it will "remember" the magnetic flux 
patterns stored onto the medium for many years. 
In the next section, we'll talk about the main differences between 
casette tapes and hard disks. 
Cassette Tape vs. Hard Disk
Let's look at the big differences between cassette tapes and hard 
disks: The magnetic recording material on a cassette tape is coated 
onto a thin plastic strip. In a hard disk, the magnetic recording 
material is layered onto a high-precision aluminum or glass disk. The 
hard-disk platter is then polished to mirror-type smoothness. 
With a tape, you have to fast-forward or reverse to get to any 
particular point on the tape. This can take several minutes with a 
long tape. On a hard disk, you can move to any point on the surface of 
the disk almost instantly. In a cassette-tape deck, the read/write 
head touches the tape directly. In a hard disk, the read/write 
head "flies" over the disk, never actually touching it. 
The tape in a cassette-tape deck moves over the head at about 2 inches 
(about 5.08 cm) per second. A hard-disk platter can spin underneath 
its head at speeds up to 3,000 inches per second (about 170 mph or 272 
kph)! The information on a hard disk is stored in extremely small 
magnetic domains compared to a cassette tape's. The size of these 
domains is made possible by the precision of the platter and the speed 
of the medium. 
Because of these differences, a modern hard disk is able to store an 
amazing amount of information in a small space. A hard disk can also 
access any of its information in a fraction of a second. 
Capacity and Performance
A typical desktop machine will have a hard disk with a capacity of 
between 10 and 40 gigabytes. Data is stored onto the disk in the form 
of files. A file is simply a named collection of bytes. The bytes 
might be the ASCII codes for the characters of a text file, or they 
could be the instructions of a software application for the computer 
to execute, or they could be the records of a data base, or they could 
be the pixel colors for a GIF image. No matter what it contains, 
however, a file is simply a string of bytes. When a program running on 
the computer requests a file, the hard disk retrieves its bytes and 
sends them to the CPU one at a time. 
There are two ways to measure the performance of a hard disk: 
Data rate - The data rate is the number of bytes per second that the 
drive can deliver to the CPU. Rates between 5 and 40 megabytes per 
second are common. Seek time - The seek time is the amount of time 
between when the CPU requests a file and when the first byte of the 
file is sent to the CPU. Times between 10 and 20 milliseconds are 
common. The other important parameter is the capacity of the drive, 
which is the number of bytes it can hold. 
Inside: Electronics Board
The best way to understand how a hard disk works is to take a look 
inside. (Note that OPENING A HARD DISK RUINS IT, so this is not 
something to try at home unless you have a defunct drive.) 
It is a sealed aluminum box with controller electronics attached to 
one side. The electronics control the read/write mechanism and the 
motor that spins the platters. The electronics also assemble the 
magnetic domains on the drive into bytes (reading) and turn bytes into 
magnetic domains (writing).
Inside: Beneath the Board
Underneath the board are the connections for the motor that spins the 
platters, as well as a highly-filtered vent hole that lets internal 
and external air pressures equalize. 
The platters, which typically spin at 3,600 or 7,200 rpm when the 
drive is operating. These platters are manufactured to amazing 
tolerances and are mirror-smooth (as you can see in this interesting 
self-portrait of the author... no easy way to avoid that!). 
The arm that holds the read/write heads is controlled by the mechanism 
in the upper-left corner, and is able to move the heads from the hub 
to the edge of the drive. The arm and its movement mechanism are 
extremely light and fast. The arm on a typical hard-disk drive can 
move from hub to edge and back up to 50 times per second -- it is an 
amazing thing to watch! 
Inside: Platters and Heads
In order to increase the amount of information the drive can store, 
most hard disks have multiple platters. 
The mechanism that moves the arms on a hard disk has to be incredibly 
fast and precise. It can be constructed using a high-speed linear 
Many drives use a "voice coil" approach -- the same technique used to 
move the cone of a speaker on your stereo is used to move the arm. 
Storing the Data
Data is stored on the surface of a platter in sectors and tracks. 
Tracks are concentric circles, and sectors are pie-shaped wedges on a 
A typical track is shown in yellow; a typical sector is shown in blue. 
A sector contains a fixed number of bytes -- for example, 256 or 512. 
Either at the drive or the operating system level, sectors are often 
grouped together into clusters. 
The process of low-level formatting a drive establishes the tracks and 
sectors on the platter. The starting and ending points of each sector 
are written onto the platter. This process prepares the drive to hold 
blocks of bytes. High-level formatting then writes the file-storage 
structures, like the file-allocation table, into the sectors. This 
process prepares the drive to hold files. 
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List Of Recoverable Media (Call Us If Not On List)
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