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About Hard Drives

What you need to know about hard drives before you buy...

Hard drives keep getting bigger and bigger. but why? Well, we keep storing more data, using bigger programs and doing things like playing music, games and movies on them. After your system's CPU and memory, your hard drive has the greatest impact on your system's performance. So, it's important to make sure your hard drive can handle work you'll be doing.

How big should your hard drive be?

Are you considering a new system, an internal replacement or external add-on? Determine what you need from a hard drive before you buy. What kind of storage space do you need? Will you be using graphics packages, storing or editing videos? If you are using the standard MS Office programs and surfing the web, a 20GB to 40GB hard drive will be more than sufficient. Otherwise, you can choose a hard drive as high as 500GB capacity, though most of us are hard-pressed to fill that size storage space. If you work with multimedia, desktop publishing or any kind of audio or video files, you will need a lot of capacity. It's always best to buy a bit more capacity than you think you'll need. Often, the added cost for the next size up is minimal.

What about spindle speed?

There are four spindle speeds available: 5,400, 7,200, 10,000 and 15,000 rpm (rotations per minute) though you normally only see very high-end SCSI drives with 15,000 rpm (these are used mainly in servers). RPM tells you how fast a drive is able to spin a disk per minute. The higher the rotation, the faster data will be read or written. This measurement determines performance. "Value-priced" drives have speeds of 5,400 as well as some of the larger drives. Higher performance drives will come in 7,200 or 10,000 rpm which you will want if you plan to do any gaming or work in multimedia.

How much Buffer RAM is enough?

Buffer is the amount of RAM memory in a hard drive that is used to store the data you use most frequently. Buffer RAM comes in 2MB, 8MB and 16MB. High performance drives are available with 16MB of RAM but most come with 8MB which provides plenty of memory for the majority of users. But if you do video/audio editing, you may want to consider the additional RAM.

What is Average Seek Time?

Average seek time is the amount of time it takes the read/write heads of the hard drive to move to a specific location on the drive platter. It's calculated by dividing the time it takes to complete a bunch of random seeks by the number of seeks performed. Average seek time is measured in milliseconds (ms). The lower the number the better the average seek time. Most IDE hard drives today come in at <9.5ms (less than 9.5ms) while SCSI hard drives come in at <5ms (less than 5ms).

As with all other technology, hard drives continue to improve and increase in capacity. Shop around to find the best buy and look for those brands you can rely on like: Seagate, Western Digital and Maxtor.

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