What is a hard drive? This is a frequently asked question that we are happy to answer. Read on to see if you're looking for ways to upgrade your hard drive, buy a computer with the right hard drive, or just find out what everyone's talking about. We explain everything to you and give you tips on which hard disk properties are particularly important.
The purpose of the hard drive
A computer device stores long-term data on the hard drive – not just the data you have saved, but all the code required for the operating system, the framework browser for accessing the Internet, drivers for accessories and everything else. With regard to computer memory, the term “hard disk” (or SSD, see below) is normally used.
Each hard disk has a certain storage space. Part of this space is automatically used by the operating system and backup installations. However, the rest can be filled with data that you download and save, whether it's a new app or a fun cat picture someone shared.
Hard disk space is no longer as important as it used to be. This is because cloud-based software does not require local storage. Data can also be stored in the cloud, freeing up valuable hard drive space.
This cloud-based dependency, which relies on remote servers and their hard drives in data centers, originally drove Google’s Chrome OS platform. Chromebooks have very little physical storage space due to their dependency on streaming and cloud solutions. This is changing to a certain extent thanks to the growing support for Google Play Android apps.
Birth of the hard drive
Reynold B. Johnson developed the first real hard drive at IBM in 1956. Johnson's team originally experimented with other methods of storing data on magnetic tapes.
However, his team discovered ways to store information (in the form of bytes) on metal magnetic disks, which they could overwrite with new information if necessary. This led to the development of an automated hard drive that reads like a turntable – except much larger. The first commercially available version, RAMAC, had a hard drive that was almost the size of a kitchen pantry.
IBM later began developing floppy disks in the late 1960s to easily load code into their mainframes. These disks were initially eight inches in diameter when packing read-only data. The first commercially available read / write drive did not appear until 1972 when the team leader – Alan Shugart – migrated to Memorex.
Overall, these two parts – the automated magnetic disk and the smaller, transferable "disk" – became the backbone of the early hard disk. For many years, the method of storing data has remained the same, while the way the hard drive has been able to store, read, and ultimately write data to the hard drive has improved significantly.
Two types of drives
A hard drive can be internal or external.
Internal means that a hard drive is in a computer and has a direct connection to the motherboard, but is not always updateable.
For example, the side of a desktop can be easily removed to disconnect the old drive and connect the new drive. It's a quick and easy upgrade.
However, the upgrade process on laptops may not be that easy. There is usually a door at the bottom that allows access to the drive. Other laptops such as Apple's MacBooks do not have removable storage. Read the specifications on the manufacturer's website on how to properly change a laptop's drive.
External means that a hard drive is outside the PC and is usually connected via a USB or Thunderbolt cable. This option is usually slower due to the connection, but can also be disconnected from the higher-level PC without major problems.
In addition to internal and external, a hard drive can be a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). There is a big difference between the two, which we explain in a separate article, SSD and HDD. However, here are the shorter explanations:
Hard disk: Hard drives use a rotating magnetic disk that contains information written in very small tracks – a bit like a turntable. This requires moving parts, particularly heads, to read and write data to the disk as needed and the drive to rotate the disk. This is a simple method that makes hard drive purchase inexpensive, especially when creating very large storage configurations.
SSD: There are no moving parts in solid-state drives. Instead, these drives use semiconductors that store information by changing the electrical state of very small capacitors. They are much faster than hard drives and can store information more easily without the risk of parts wearing out. SSDs are the reason why modern PCs boot up so quickly.
Important hard drive qualities
Room: Take a look at the specifications for computers available today and you'll see storage options in several terabytes. SSDs are particularly important for hard drive storage because they store data in a much smaller, multi-layered space than HDDs. Because of this, phones can record all of our favorite music, videos and pictures.
Speed: The speed of a hard drive depends on how quickly data can be read or written. This includes a connection to the PC, which can impair data flow and ultimately performance (see below). The spin speed is also important for mechanical hard drives: drives with 7,200 rpm are generally faster than drives with 5,400 rpm. Both are much slower than SSDs.
Physical security: Physical security is usually about longevity – regardless of whether the hard drive is hidden in a computer or in an external version that is easy to carry. It has to withstand shocks and shocks as well as heat and other environmental problems. More advanced hard drives may also have features that prevent hacking or theft.
Links: A hard drive can be connected via SATA, PCI Express, USB or Thunderbolt connections. The connection type affects the speed. So if an external SSD is connected to a USB-A 2.0 port, the maximum data flow is 60 megabytes per second, even if the SSD can read or write at 1,800 megabytes per second. Connections also determine compatibility and upgradeability. Always check them before buying or upgrading.