Although hard drives are among the most popular upgrades for personal computers, buying one these days isn't as easy as it used to be. In addition to storage space, there are many other factors you need to consider before choosing this vital PC component. Thankfully for consumers, the cost of hard drives-or any storage system for that matter-is at an all time low.
Speed- A hard drive's read speed is a measure of how fast it can deliver data to the motherboard. The general rule of thumb is the higher the rotational speed of the drive, the more data it can read and write at once. Keep in mind that the rotational or spindle speed (measured in RPM) is the main factor related to the hard drive's performance.
For desktop computers, 7,200 rpm seems to be the standard among most users, and 5,400 rpm is probably the lowest you should consider. Although 10,000 rpm drives are gradually becoming more commonplace, they're a little on the expensive side. Of course, hard drives are available even faster than these, but they usually require a different type of connectivity. On the other hand, laptops tend to have hard drives with slower read speeds, which produce less heat and consume less power.
Another factor that affects performance is the total amount of buffer on the drive, which is an amount of RAM that frequently stores accessed data. Because RAM is faster at transferring data than the drive head operation, it boosts the overall speed of the drive. Thus, a greater amount of buffer means less physical drive operation.
Storage Space- In today's PC market, it's no longer feasible to settle for a hard drive with less than one gigabyte (GB) of storage space. In fact, chances are you'll have a difficult time finding a hard drive of that capacity. Nowadays, the minimum appears to be about 20GB, while the standard for an average family is somewhere between 80 and 100GB.
For those involved in multimedia work or who consider themselves an extreme gamer, a 160GB drive is a more suitable choice. If you run a business with inventory programs or have high-memory applications such as DVD home movies, bigger is better and definitely worth the extra money. Even if you don't think you'll use the space, super-sizing your hard drive is never a bad idea.
Interface- Now that you're familiar with the speed and capacity features on a hard drive, the next aspect to focus on is the interface, or how it connects to your system. In general, SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and IDE (or ATA) drives are the most common in small business and home computers. You might come across SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) connectivity, but these are generally used on servers in professional environments. There are numerous speeds available for IDE interfaces, ranging from ATA/33 to ATA/133. The number signifies the maximum bandwidth in megabytes per second (MB/sec) that the interface can handle. For example, an ATA/100 interface can support 100 MB/sec. The most important thing you need to do is make sure the hard drive description matches up with your computer's interface.
Another interface worth mentioning is RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), which allows you to group all of your hard disks together so your CPU sees them as a single unit. Of course, this option is only available to those who have more than one drive. The advantage here is speed. As your system takes turns addressing each drive, you'll get some healthy performance gains. However, this can be a little risky because if one drive goes down, they all go down.
Maintenance & care- Once you've made a decision and properly installed the hard drive, there are a few routine maintenance tasks you can perform that will go a long way. For starters, keep your system cool at all times. You should never put your CPU in an enclosed cabinet or any sort of warm, confined space. If you live in a hot area, you may want to get an extra fan just for your computer system.
You should also dust off your PC every so often and spray the openings with canned air. Also, don't set your tower on the floor, especially carpeted floors, since it's more likely to collect dust. If the hard drive is making noise, check the mounting. Usually a clicking noise means a crash is imminent or it hasn't been installed properly. So if the hard drive is new, it's probably mounted incorrectly and needs to be fixed. As a general rule, it should be installed flat, whether it's horizontal or vertical doesn't really matter.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you should protect and manage your drives by installing archive or recovery software. Essentially, hard drives are the core of your PC, so don't take any chances. In addition to installing security and utilities software, consider burning a permanent copy of all your documents and files onto some kind of storage media, such as CDs or DVDs. Keep these backup files in a safe place somewhere away from your house.
With a little common sense and proper care, your hard drive will run like a dream for an extraordinarily long time. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of this technology and are aware of the main factors to consider before making a decision. So take the time to evaluate your options, and you'll be well on your way to purchasing a new hard drive.
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The PC playground is full of components, all vying for the title of the most important part of your rig. Everybody has a different opinion; for some it's the processor, all that maths squeezed into a tiny bit of silicon; for others it's the graphics card, boards designed specifically to throw pixels about your panel like plates at a Greek wedding. But where would either of those supermodels of the component world be without a compatible motherboard backing them up? Nowhere. And that's where your PC will end up without a decent power supply keeping the whole lot juiced to the gunnels.
If you make a really bad choice of PSU, your entire rig may end up a smoldering heap at the e-waste recycling point of your local Pikitup. Cascade effects from faulty, or even from just under-powering supplies, can have unpleasant repercussions on the rest of the components making their home in your PC.
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