Computer Drives Product Guide

Computer Drives

Real-estate brokers like to discuss the number of closets a house has. It helps keep organized. Organization is a popular buzzword. Everyone is interested. There are television channels that devote themselves to home organization. When you're working at a desk or use a closet, the more drawers or hangers that you have helps you store things and keep organized.

It's the same thing with a computer. In a sense, a drive (especially a hard drive) is like a drawer. High capacity hard drives are similar to creating larger drawers. Instead of clothes and papers, drives hold data. Data could be words and numbers. They could also be songs, pictures, videos, and designs. You want to be able to access them quickly, have space to store more, and keep things organized.



Hard Drives


If you own an iPod or an MP3 digital-media player, you own and use a form of hard drive. It stores music and video but has convenient ports and screens that let you listen, view, and control. The core mechanism is a storage device. Some use a solid-state network of chips, that's a solid-state drive, sometimes referred as a flash-drive. When you see MP3 players with 40GB space or more, that's equivalent to portable hard drives. There are tiny hard drives you can carry with you that can store billions or trillions of bits of information. A byte is a very small, fundamental sequence of information. A simple page of text can consist of about ten thousand bytes of information. When discussing bits or bytes, consider the bit like an atom. A byte is more like a molecule. Neither can be perceived by our senses. Put enough together, they can form possibly anything. GB means billion bytes. TB means trillion bytes.

Capacity

The hard drive is the quintessential storage drive for a computer. Depending on its capacity it can store billions and trillions of data bits. Bits are pieces. A picture, for example, may represent a few million pieces. A song might occupy fifty thousand pieces. A very graphic computer game may occupy a billion pieces. Feature length movies might use 4 billion spaces or more. Depending on your needs, space is easy to fill. If you're looking for speed and performance from your computer, you aim for a larger drive. When you plan on storing videos, hard drives with capacities of a trillion bits or more referred as TB terabytes) may be insignificant. Some people link two or more drives together and form an array. A video file may occupy 3 to 5GB of information or space. A High-Definition video can fill about 20 to 30GB of space.

The idea is to get the largest drive capacity you can afford. In the case of a portable hard drive, choose the largest capacity in a drive that you want to carry.

Connectivity

Most computers already include a hard drive. Desktops may have slots for adding additional drives into the tower. Notebooks might also have a slot for adding or exchanging a hard drive. All have external connection ports (i.e. USB, Firewire, and E-SATA) so you can add portable drives to any computer. There are even some external hard drives that let you download movies and shows from the Internet for play directly to a high-definition or widescreen television. Many of those will have TV connect jacks like HDMI or RCA-Composite. Some portable hard drives can be taken on long trips to provide additional storage for your digital camera. Your iPod or MP3 player is like a hard drive that's designed for listening to music or viewing videos. Through its USB connection with your computer, it can also store other types of data.

Another connector, usually offered with another connector port, is an Ethernet port. This lets you share the contents of your drive with other members of a home or business network.

Speed

In addition to capacity, drive speed is important but is relative to use. A drive with a rotational speed of 7200 revolutions per minute or greater is likely to store data very quickly. These drives are normally internal drives on an AC-powered desktop computer. Portable drives usually have top speeds of about 5400rpm, usually to help conserve energy while you're on the road. Some use external AC power supply, some run on rechargeable batteries, some are powered from the host USB port of your notebook. Envisioning the speed that the permanent discs in a hard drive spin around is equivalent to 100 miles per hour or more, if they were following a straight line.

Data transfer also is a determinant of speed. This involves the data flow capacity of the drive's connecting port with the computer. USB and Firewire are fundamentally external drive connectors. USB 2.0 can transfer data at up to 480 million bits per second. The newer USB 3.0 standard can transfer data at up to 4.8 billion bits of information per second. Firewire is another form of connector. Firewire 400 essentially can transfer data at up to 400 million bits per second while Firewire 800 can transfer at up to 800 million bits per second on a PC and up to 3200 million bits on a Macintosh. SATA (Serial ATA) is an internal drive connector and, through various configurations, can transfer data from 1.5 to 6 billion bits per second. E-SATA (External-SATA) is the external connector version of SATA. E-SATA drives have current ratings of about 1.5 to 3.0 billion bits of information per second. All these standards are evolving and these rates may be exceeded soon.

The point of understanding these high speeds is relevant when transferring huge data files. If high-definition movies are available on the Internet for download, a typical movie may be a 30 billion-bit file. You may have to wait hours to download an HD movie with USB as opposed to minutes with E-SATA. (Keep in mind that Internet access speed also factors in the equation).

For run-of-the-mill office text data, these gig speeds are less relevant. For multimedia, these speeds are what dreams are made of. Based on your needs, connection ports are critical.

Cache For Speed

Virtually all hard-drives have a specification identifying a cache, often also called a buffer. The function of cache is to act as a buffer between a relatively fast device and a relatively slow one. The cache is used to hold the results of recent reads from the disk, and also works to pre-accept information that is likely to be requested in the near future, for example, the sector or sectors of a file that follow after the one just requested. Typically, most hard drives come with a cache capacity of up to about 16 billion bits of information.

In most cases, cache cannot be expanded. It's built-in and that's what you get. Most portable drives, generally used for smaller files, often don't specify cache capacities.

The Media Is The Massage

Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, media are extensions of our human senses, bodies and minds. The hard drive is a reflection and a repository of all we view, use, and save on our computer.

All in all, the hard drive is a machine. It's a stack of discs that work in concordance to store files permanently for your convenient and easy access.

It is wisely recommended that, when you purchase a computer, a hard drive with an equal or greater capacity than that in the computer is bought as a prime accessory. When we discuss storage of billions or trillions of bits, that's a lot of information. While a hard-drive is safe, permanent memory, this fast spinning mechanism may possibly break and crash.

That's why it is important to have an extra drive handy as a constant back up. In case of a failure, downtime is minimized. Most hard drives that we sell include some software (on disc or from download) if you intend to use the hard-drive to mimic your main drive.



Removable Disc Drives


At one time, this was a vast category. There were many different types of discs available from floppies to Zip. Today, these formats have been consolidated into optical disc formats that almost appear identical but are different. Technologically, however, the drive can read and write to all the possible formats.

Often included with desktop and notebook computers, many people purchase these separately for back up or for use with small Netbooks or compatible devices. This drive is often referred as a Multi Drive.

A typical MultiDrive holds virtually all DVD and CD formats. A typical DVD can store about 4.7 billion bits of information. A dual-layer DVD can store up to 8.5GB (billion bits of information). A CD can typically hold 700MB (million bits of information). For portable media, this is nothing to snicker at. Each 8.5GB DVD disc potentially saves up to 34,000 photos, 160 hours of music or 12 hours of video. It's a great way of transferring files from one computer to another or for use with school and office projects.

Many people burn (record) DVD of their movies, photos, and music to share with other friends.

The most important purpose of this drive is that most commercially sold software and games are available on CD and DVD format. You need this drive to load these on to your computer. You can also use this drive for listening to pre-recorded CD or viewing DVD on your computer.

A new disc is also becoming more popular. It's called Blu-Ray. A Blu-Ray disc can hold somewhere between 25 to 50GB of information. A Blu-Ray drive is also be backward compatible to DVD and CD.

Most of these drives are available in external or internal formats.



USB Flash Drives


This is a storage device that uses a technology very similar to the memory cards of a digital camera. The only major difference is that it's attached to a USB connector.

Weighing about an ounce, this is a solid state memory chip that's excellent for transferring memory files. It's so small. It'll fit in your jacket or pants pocket. Capacities for these drives go from as low as 2GB up to more than 32GB.

A solid state circuit, USB Flash Drives have no moving parts



SSD Drives


Like USB Flash Drives, SSD uses solid state memory and thus has no moving parts. It is somewhat conmon in Netbooks since it weighs several ounces less than a hard drive. An SSD, however, functions much like a hard drive and can easily replace it. It uses DRAM and SRAM technologies instead of Flash memory so it can meet more hard-drive needs and ranges of applications. The key advantage of SSD is, with no moving parts, access to memory is quick, virtually immediate. It also uses less energy, permitting Netbooks and Notebooks more operating time per battery charge. Typically, most spinning hard drive models may require 2-3 watts of power under normal activity, while an SSD would use less than 1 watt. When idle, the difference is greater. An SSD doesn't need to keep spinning when the notebook isn't being used. The SSD wins for the Green.

There are no moving parts. As a result, there is less that can go wrong mechanically. Dust entering the device ceases to become a problem. Dropping the drive is less likely to cause damage to the data. There are no heads so heads can't factor in any possible crashes. It has a higher degree of resilience to physical vibration, shock and extreme temperature fluctuations. Shock and vibration often may result in hard drive damage during a possible accident.

Since an SSD doesn't spin, access time is virtually immediate since it doesn't have to spin up to seek and access information. Hard drives store and leave information in varied parts of the disk, where space is available. This is known as fragmentation. This why drive performance improves when you defragment the drive frequently. Fragmentation causes fluctuations in seek times. The seek time on a SSD hard drive is constant, so having to read pieces of a file from different locations won't decrease performance.

Compared to hard drives, SSD storage is priced much higher per GB of storage. They also have slightly slower write speeds. While hard drive capacities can leap into Terabits (trillions of data bits), SSD reaches up to about 256GB.

Another possibility may emerge that the SSD may not require use of a drive bay. That means it may be able to fit in as a PCIe expansion in a desktop or an ExpressBus of a notebook. That can trim sizes even further.

Apple's MacBook Air was packaged with SSD memory. Some ultra portable notebooks and Netbooks from Sony and Acer also use SSD storage. SSD is in play.

For the average user, SSD still needs time to develop. Hard-drives already have nearly 20 years of history and have proven to be extremely reliable and economical over the past 10 years. There are, however, some optimization issues to be discussed later in the Accessory portion.

In computers, change is rapid. As we see the industry evolve, it may be likely that the SSD will catch up to the hard drive in capacity and price per GB. There is a market for those who want lightweight and energy efficient storage that's fast and silent. For now, those conveniences require a premium price and compromises in maximum storage capacities.



Drive Accessories


Drive Enclosure

Here's a situation. You have an internal SATA hard drive and want to take it out on the road. A drive enclosure lets you do it. It houses your internal drive and converts it to an external drive, usually with a USB connector.

Some people use enclosures as an inexpensive way of converting an internal drive to an external one. An external Hard Drive Enclosure is great for protecting your data from physical damage when in transit.

For this definition, we're going to focus on enclosures for one drive. There are enclosures for as many as 8 or 12 drives but many of these are for drive arrays. We'll be discussing those next.



Drive Arrays


Storage and backup solutions are big problems for computers. Now with more data intensive files - like videos and movies - one drive may not be enough storage. A Drive Array can hold several hard-drives in an enclosure and have them work together as comprehensive storage solutions.

RAID

Getting those drives working together requires a RAID configuration. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. The 'I' for Inexpensive was the driving force for RAID. High capacity hard drives are generally higher priced than low to moderate capacity drives. The idea was to join those moderate capacity drives into one high capacity network of drives.

Setting up a redundant drive system was essentially designed to protect businesses from system shut downs. With a single hard disk, you cannot protect yourself against the costs of a disk failure. If such a failure occurred, the time required to obtain and install a replacement disk, reinstall the operating system, restore files from backup tapes, and repeat all the data entry performed since the last backup was made would be a long, tedious procedure. Using multiple drives and a suitable redundancy scheme, your system can stay up and running when a disk fails, and even while the replacement disk is being installed and its data restored.

Different RAID systems have been designed for different storage applications. The RAID design helps choose how the storage is organized and activated within the network of drives that make the array. We won't discuss these different systems in detail but it's important to know that RAID is common jargon for schemes that can divide and replicate data among multiple hard disk drives.

DROBO

While RAID configurations were great for network administrators and geeks, Data Robotics developed a drive array enclosure designed for simple use. They called it the DROBO. Doing this, DROBO went 'Beyond -RAID'. Beyond-RAID leverages the benefits of traditional RAID systems, while leaving many of the limitations behind.

The drive array from Data Robotics is called the DroboPro. DroboPro is able to utilize different capacity hard drives in a very efficient way. Some disk space must be reserved for keeping your data safe. It's an expandable system that lets you begin with one or two drives and expand up to four over time. You can format your DroboPro volume size as 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB or 16TB (regardless of how much physical hard disk space you have available). This ability to format your volume larger than available disk space is called "thin provisioning". It allows you to grow into a single, large volume over time rather than needing multiple smaller volumes. Remember, built into Drobo, is the primal concept of keeping your data safe so some of the storage in your array will be discounted for safety over storage. Generally, your free, protected capacity on Drobo is equivalent to the total sum of your hard drive capacity minus the size of the largest drive.

You can remove drives from DroboPro and safely store or archive them to be re-inserted into DroboPro at a later time. You must remove the disks out as a set - this means if you have six drives in DroboPro, you should remove and archive all six. The good thing is, if one (or two, depending on the redundancy you set) of those disks were to fail while in storage, your data would still be safe.

The DroboPro (and others developed for consumer use) offers relatively simple yet responsible solutions for bridging drives to create an array that allows great storage and dependable security.



Drive Utility Software


As noted before, most drives come with a suite of file management or backup software. There are various other utilities that optimize your drives storage efficiency and speed. Microsoft Windows and VISTA include several utilities as part of the operating system. The Defragmenter is recommended for use as frequently as possible. It reorganizes the data on the drive for speedier access.

Acronis is a leading developer of drive management software. Acronis Disk Director Suite 10.0 is designed for absolute simplicity. It includes a partition manager and a hard disk toolkit. Partition Manager allows you to resize, move, copy, split, and merge partitions without losing your data; Boot Manager is a software utility that allows you to install multiple operating systems on your PC; Partition Recovery allows you to recover accidentally lost or deleted partitions; Disk Editor is a disk drive repair tool that allows you to perform advanced operations on your hard disk drive, such as restoration of boot records and hexadecimal editing.

Symantec Norton Utilities is a very popular software suite to optimize the performance of your computer and drives. Symantec is well known for Anti-Virus and Internet Security applications. Their software is highly regarded for ease, convenience, and reliability. It optimizes the hard disk to free up disk space and recoup system resources through customizable defragmentation and cleaning.

Vcom Partition Commander is designed to help you reclaim your wasted hard disk space, organize your important files, and speed up your hard drive. We mentioned that the spinning hard drive could store files in various different parts of the total drive. Sometimes data is mixed or layered with software updates from operating systems or Internet Security applications. These areas are known as partitions. Partition Commander lets you move unused disk space from one partition to another combined with unique safety features. Using Partition Commander, you can significantly improve your hard drive speed and organization by separating your operating system, applications and important data. This enables your hard drive to find files faster and easier.

Software support for drive performance and backup features are a relatively strong part of the market. They should be purchased when buying a new drive or a new computer. It helps promote the overall wellness of your computer storage system.



Summary


Many city apartment dwellers realize that storage space is vital for maintaining balance at home. Mess interferes with most lifestyles. The mass of data going through your computer over time can also reduce its speed and efficiency.

Storage is rapidly becoming one of the most significant parts of your computer system, as there are increases in digital multimedia file exchanges. Internet video rental sites are already offering 720p HD movies for download. More media libraries are storing high performance games, concert videos, and other assets for download. As such, large storage drives continue to grow in capacity. Right now the hard-drive is the king. We've yet to get the verdict of how soon SSD is going to slice into the pie. Either way, upgrading your drive capacity will likely become more important as web, PC, and TV form new relationships as hard drives extend to media drives.

In some cases, people are already stacking drives into disk arrays for greater storage capacities than one drive can provide. Programming disk arrays isn't all that easy. New products like Drobo are marketing arrays that are simpler for consumer use. These can store several drives that operate congruently for optimal space and backup support.

Capacity isn't the only benchmark of a drive. Speed and performance play significant roles. There are software solutions that aid the way files are organized and stored. They are economical means of maintaining and even increasing drive efficiency.

So, what do you look for? If you plan on downloading movies, games, and audio off websites, go for Terabyte-level hard drives (2 or more), or set up an array of drives. For most audio and general data applications, a good mid-level 320 to 750GB drive will do. Most users hardly fill more than 40% of this capacity after years of use. For downloading video files, especially HD video, 1 Terabyte may not be enough.

Always consider a second drive for support. It is used as back-up just in case your main drive or PC fails. Make it an external one so you can shift data to a new PC in a hurry. That helps minimize down time. Most hard drives include backup utility software in recognition of this important function.

Use drive management software. These utilities help eliminate wasted and useless files to speed performance of drives.





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