Hard drives 101

My computer repair company services thousands of PCs each year. In my experience, there are some constants: No one’s computer or Internet speed is ever fast enough, and all hard drives will eventually fail.

My computer repair company services thousands of PCs each year.

In my experience, there are some constants: No one’s computer or Internet speed is ever fast enough, and all hard drives will eventually fail.

Hard drives physically fail more than any other internal component. That’s no surprise, given that the hard drive is the workhorse of your PC or laptop.

This data-storage and data-retrieval device consists of one or more “hard” discs that spin fast and a read/write spindle that accesses and records data on the disc. I liken it to a record player.

Now ponder that the ability of your system to boot up, run programs and give you access to your precious data is resting on this somewhat tenuous structure.

As with every internal component in a computer, manufacturers have developed a series of acronyms and codes to describe everything from size to speed to capacity. Here’s a breakdown the specifications involved so that when the day comes to replace your drive, you’ll be prepared:

l Form Factor: This is the physical dimension of the hard drive. The most popular size is 3.5 inches; that’s the standard size for desktop (tower) PCs.

Laptop hard drives are typically 2.5 inches. Hard drives that are physically larger accommodate more storage space, while the smaller drives consume less power and produce less heat — key factors for notebook computers.

l Capacity: Anyone familiar with computer-speak has probably heard of megabytes and gigabytes, possibly even terabytes, but it’s hard to guess how much space you’ll need.

Documents and device drivers don’t take up much space. You can store 150-200 high-quality photos in 1 GB. A standard-definition DVD takes 2 to 5 GB.

The main factor is whether you take a lot of high-definition videos; the higher the quality of the image, the larger the file.

HD content can eat up hard drive space quickly and varies with the length of videos. If you’re a “gamer,” you’ll probably need lots of space for the data-heavy files that make big games run smoothly. I typically tell the average user not to upgrade capacity beyond the standard 500-GB drive likely to come installed in a new PC, but it depends on your photo and video habits.

l RPM: Just like with your car, this means revolutions per minute. As you’d expect, the faster your hard drive’s RPM, the less time it takes your computer to access stored data. Higher RPM may sound nice, especially when you’ve dealt with slower computers in the past, but keep in mind that it comes with a price. Higher RPMs can equate to louder machines and generate more heat (and thus less energy efficiency). Computers with higher RPMs can also fail more often, given that they’re operating in a higher-stress environment.

The average desktop user should be comfortable with a 7,200-RPM hard drive, though speeds in the industry can go as high as 15,000 RPM. Laptop users will find 5,400 RPM to be typical.

l Cache: Cache is a small area of faster memory within the hard drive used as a buffer between the CPU, memory (RAM) and hard drive. Think of it like a carryon bag — the bigger it is, the more stuff you can get to quickly without having to dig into your suitcase.

You’ll typically find cache sizes of 2 MB, 8 MB and 16 MB in the standard 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives. Larger cache size equates to faster performance and tends to cost more.

Stay tuned next week for the lowdown on the next generation of hard drives — solid state drives and hybrid drives — and whether they’re worth the upgrade.

Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair to homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta premier skeptical about federal government vaccine predictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggests all Canadians could be vaccinated by fall

The number of positive cases of COVID-19 has been climbing up since Jan. 20 at Red Deer's Olymel meat processing plant. (File photo by Advocate Staff)
Some Olymel workers return for training, plant reopening date not set

Union calls for delay of opening as workers fear for safety

Artist Lorne Runham's COVID Bubbles abstract work (shown here as a detail) can be viewed in an online art show on the Red Deer Arts Council's website until April 18. (Contributed image).
Art created in Red Deer in the time of COVID can be viewed in new online show

The show by members of the Red Deer Arts Council runs until April 18

Activists against open-pit coal mining in the Rocky Mountains hung a protest banner outside Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon’s Rocky Mountain House constituency office. Exploratory coal leases in the Nordegg area were recently granted by Nixon’s UCP government, and many local residents say they feel betrayed, as they had been promised eco-tourism opportunities by Clearwater County. (Contributed photo).
Anti-coal mining activists post banner on Environment Minister’s Rocky constituency office

Activists call for clean water protection, ban on strip mining

Justice Anne Molloy, from top left, John Rinaldi, Dr. Scott Woodside and accused Alek Minassian are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference in this courtroom sketch on December 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Verdict expected today in Toronto van attack trial

Alek Minassian admitted to planning and carrying out the attack on April 23, 2018

UCP MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka Ron Orr. (File photo)
MLA Ron Orr: Benchmarks were achieved but goalposts were moved

Orr responds to concerns, calls on province to fully open Step 2

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

Commissioner Roger Goodell talks about the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award during the NFL Honors ceremony as part of Super Bowl 55 Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Annual NFL women’s forum enhancing career opportunities

When Sam Rapoport envisioned conducting virtually the NFL’s fifth annual Women’s Career… Continue reading

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020), speaks during a news conference with Toshiro Muto, left, CEO of Tokyo 2020, after a council meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Kimimasa Mayama/Pool Photo via AP)
Fans from abroad unlikely for postponed Tokyo Olympics

Olympics scheduled to open on July 23

FILE - Singer Jhene Aiko poses for a portrait on Dec. 7, 2020, in Los Angeles. Aiko will host the 63rd GRAMMY Awards on March 14. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Jhene Aiko to host Grammy Award premiere ceremony

63rd annual Grammy ceremony set for March 14

Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault holds a press conference in Ottawa on November 3, 2020. The Heritage Department is committing $40 million to a “COVID-safe events fund” designed to encourage arts and cultural plans to move forward in the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Heritage minister unveils COVID-19 events fund for arts and cultural sector

Financial support tops out at $100,000 per eligible applicant

opinion
Opinion: Crisis in long-term care must include data-driven change

More than 19,000 people in Canada have died from COVID-19 – more… Continue reading

The Dawe family home in the Michener Hill subdivision in Red Deer. This house was designed and built by Robert G. Dawe, a local engineer, in 1911 and has remained in the family ever since. (Contributed photo)
Michael Dawe: 65 years of Red Deer history

As a major milestone birthday looms, I thought that it might be… Continue reading

Most Read