You Know Hard disk

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A hard disk drive (HDD)[note 2] is a data storage device used for storing and retrieving digital information using rapidly rotating discs (platters) coated with magnetic material. An HDD retains its data even when powered off. Data is read in a random-access manner, meaning individual blocks of data can be stored or retrieved in any order rather than sequentiallySony PCG-71313M battery. An HDD consists of one or more rigid ("hard") rapidly rotating discs (platters) with magnetic heads arranged on a moving actuator arm to read and write data to the surfaces.

Introduced by IBM in 1956,[2] HDDs became the dominant secondary storage device for general purpose computers by the early 1960s. Continuously improved, HDDs have maintained this position into the modern era of servers and personal computers. More than 200 companies have produced HDD units, though most current units are manufactured by Seagate, Toshiba and Western DigitalSony PCG-71212M battery. Worldwide revenues for HDDs shipments are expected to reach $33 billion in 2013, a decrease of about 12% from $37.8 billion in 2012.

The primary characteristics of an HDD are its capacity and performance. Capacity is specified in unit prefixes corresponding to powers of 1000: a 1-terabyte (TB) drive has a capacity of 1,000 gigabytes (GB; where 1 gigabyte = 1 billion bytes). Typically, some of an HDD's capacity is unavailable to the user because it is used by the file system andSony PCG-71311M battery the computer operating system, and possibly inbuilt redundancy for error correction and recovery. Performance is specified by the time to move the heads to a file (Average Access Time) plus the time it takes for the file to move under its head (average latency, a function of the physical rotational speed in revolutions per minute) and the speed at which the file is transmitted (data rate) Sony PCG-71213M battery.

The two most common form factors for modern HDDs are 3.5-inch in desktop computers and 2.5-inch in laptops. HDDs are connected to systems by standard interface cables such as SATA (Serial ATA), USB or SAS (Serial attached SCSI) cables.

As of 2012, the primary competing technology for secondary storage is flash memory in the form of solid-state drives (SSDs). Sony PCG-61211M battery HDDs are expected to remain the dominant medium for secondary storage due to predicted continuing advantages in recording capacity and price per unit of storage;[3][4] but SSDs are replacing HDDs where speed, power consumption and durability are more important considerations than price and capacity.[5][6]

HDDs were introduced in 1956 as data storage for an IBM real-time transaction processing computer[2] and were developed for use with general purpose mainframe and minicomputers. The first IBM driveSony VAIO PCG-31114M battery, the 350 RAMAC, was approximately the size of two refrigerators and stored 5 million 6-bit characters (the equivalent of 3.75 million 8-bit bytes) on a stack of 50 discs.

In 1961 IBM introduced the model 1311 disk drive, which was about the size of a washing machine and stored two million characters on a removable disk pack. Users could buy additional packs and interchange them as needed, much like reels of magnetic tape. Later models of removable pack drives, from IBM and others, became the norm in most computer installations and reached capacities of 300 megabytes by the early 1980sSony VAIO PCG-31113M battery. Non-removable HDDs were called fixed disk drives.

Some high performance HDDs were manufactured with one head per track, e.g., IBM 2305 so that no time was lost physically moving the heads to a track.[7] Known as Fixed-Head or Head-Per-Track disk drives they were very expensive and are no longer in production.[8]

In 1973, IBM introduced a new type of HDD codenamed "Winchester". Its primary distinguishing feature was that the disk heads were not withdrawn completely from the stack of disk platters when the drive was powered downSony VAIO PCG-31112M battery. Instead, the heads were allowed to "land" on a special area of the disk surface upon spin-down, "taking off" again when the disk was later powered on. This greatly reduced the cost of the head actuator mechanism, but precluded removing just the disks from the drive as was done with the disk packs of the day. Instead, the first models of "Winchester technology" drives featured a removable disk moduleSony VAIO PCG-31111M battery, which included both the disk pack and the head assembly, leaving the actuator motor in the drive upon removal. Later "Winchester" drives abandoned the removable media concept and returned to non-removable platters.

Like the first removable pack drive, the first "Winchester" drives used platters 14 inches (360 mm) in diameter. A few years later, designers were exploring the possibility that physically smaller platters might offer advantages. Drives with non-removable eight-inch platters appeared, and then drives that used a 51⁄4 in (130 mm) Sony VAIO PCG-41112M battery form factor (a mounting width equivalent to that used by contemporary floppy disk drives). The latter were primarily intended for the then-fledgling personal computer (PC) market.

As the 1980s began, HDDs were a rare and very expensive additional feature on PCs; however by the late 1980s, their cost had been reduced to the point where they were standard on all but the cheapest PCSony VAIO PCG-41111M battery.

Most HDDs in the early 1980s were sold to PC end users as an external, add-on subsystem. The subsystem was not sold under the drive manufacturer's name but under the subsystem manufacturer's name such as Corvus Systems and Tallgrass Technologies, or under the PC system manufacturer's name such as the Apple ProFile. The IBM PC/XT in 1983 included an internal 10MB HDD, and soon thereafter internal HDDs proliferated on personal computersSONY VAIO PCG-21212M battery.

External HDDs remained popular for much longer on the Apple Macintosh. Every Mac made between 1986 and 1998 has a SCSI port on the back, making external expansion easy; also, "toaster" Compact Macs did not have easily accessible HDD bays (or, in the case of the Mac Plus, any hard drive bay at all), so on those models, external SCSI disks were the only reasonable optionSONY VAIO PCG-21211M battery.

Driven by areal density doubling every two to four years since their invention (an observation known as Kryder's law, similar to Moore's Law), HDDs have continuously improved their characteristics; a few highlights include:

Capacity per HDD increasing from 3.75 megabytes[2] to 4 terabytes or more, more than a million times larger.

Physical volume of HDD decreasing from 68 cubic feet (1.9 m3)[2] (comparable to a large side-by-side refrigerator), to less than 20 millilitres (0.70 imp fl oz; 0.68 US fl oz),[9] a 100,000-to-1 decreaseSONY VAIO PCG-51212M battery.

Weight decreasing from 2,000 pounds (910 kg)[2] to 48 grams (1.7 oz),[9] a 20,000-to-1 decrease.

Price decreasing from about US$15,000 per megabyte[10] to less than $0.00006 per megabyte ($90/1.5 terabyte), a greater than 250-million-to-1 decrease.[11]

Average Access Time decreasing from over 100 milliseconds to a few milliseconds, a greater than 40-to-1 improvementSONY VAIO PCG-51211M battery.

Market application expanding from mainframe computers of the late 1950s to most mass storage applications including computers and consumer applications such as storage of entertainment content.

Magnetic cross section & frequency modulation encoded binary data

Magnetic recording[edit]

See also: Magnetic storage

An HDD records data by magnetizing a thin film of ferromagnetic material[note 3] on a disk. Sequential changes in the direction of magnetization represent binary data bits. The data is read from the disk by detecting the transitions in magnetization. User data is encoded using an encoding scheme, such as run-length limited encoding,[note 4] which determines how the data is represented by the magnetic transitionsSONY VAIO PCG-51112M battery.

A typical HDD design consists of a spindle that holds flat circular disks, also called platters, which hold the recorded data. The platters are made from a non-magnetic material, usually aluminium alloy, glass, or ceramic, and are coated with a shallow layer of magnetic material typically 10–20 nm in depth, with an outer layer of carbon for protection.[13][14][15] For reference, a standard piece of copy paper is 0.07–0.18 millimetre (70,000–180,000 nm). SONY VAIO PCG-51111M battery

Diagram labeling the major components of a computer HDD

Recording of single magnetisations of bits on a 200MB HDD-platter (recording made visible using CMOS-MagView).[17]

Longitudinal recording (standard) & perpendicular recording diagram

The platters in contemporary HDDs are spun at speeds varying from 4,200 rpm in energy-efficient portable devices, to 15,000 rpm for high performance servers.[18] The first HDDs spun at 1,200 rpm[2] and, for many years, 3,600 rpm was the norm.[19] Today, the platters in most consumer HDDs spin in the range of 5,400 rpm to 7,200 rpmSONY VAIO PCG-81212M battery.

Information is written to and read from a platter as it rotates past devices called read-and-write heads that operate very close (often tens of nanometers) over the magnetic surface. The read-and-write head is used to detect and modify the magnetization of the material immediately under itSony VAIO PCG-81112M battery.

In modern drives there is one head for each magnetic platter surface on the spindle, mounted on a common arm. An actuator arm (or access arm) moves the heads on an arc (roughly radially) across the platters as they spin, allowing each head to access almost the entire surface of the platter as it spins. The arm is moved using a voice coil actuator or in some older designs a stepper motor. Early hard disk drives wrote data at some constant bits per secondSONY VAIO PCG-71111M battery, resulting in all tracks having the same amount of data per track but modern drives (since the 1990s) use zone bit recording -- increasing the write speed from inner to outer zone and thereby storing more data per track in the outer zones.

In modern drives, the small size of the magnetic regions creates the danger that their magnetic state might be lost because of thermal effects. To counter this, the platters are coated with two parallel magnetic layers, separated by a 3-atom layer of the non-magnetic element rutheniumSONY VAIO PCG-7196M battery, and the two layers are magnetized in opposite orientation, thus reinforcing each other.[20] Another technology used to overcome thermal effects to allow greater recording densities is perpendicular recording, first shipped in 2005,[21] and as of 2007 the technology was used in many HDDs.[22][23][24]


HDD with disks and motor hub removed exposing copper colored stator coils surrounding a bearing in the center of the spindle motor. Orange stripe along the side of the arm is thin printed-circuit cable, spindle bearing is in the center and the actuator is in the upper leftSONY VAIO PCG-7195M battery

A typical HDD has two electric motors; a spindle motor that spins the disks and an actuator (motor) that positions the read/write head assembly across the spinning disks. The disk motor has an external rotor attached to the disks; the stator windings are fixed in place. Opposite the actuator at the end of the head support arm is the read-write head; thin printed-circuit cables connect the read-write heads to amplifier electronics mounted at the pivot of the actuatorSONY VAIO PCG-7194M battery. The head support arm is very light, but also stiff; in modern drives, acceleration at the head reaches 550 g.

Head stack with an actuator coil on the left and read/write heads on the right

The actuator is a permanent magnet and moving coil motor that swings the heads to the desired position. A metal plate supports a squat neodymium-iron-boron (NIB) high-flux magnet. Beneath this plate is the moving coil, often referred to as the voice coil by analogy to the coil in loudspeakers, which is attached to the actuator hub, and beneath that is a second NIB magnet, mounted on the bottom plate of the motor (some drives only have one magnet) SONY VAIO PCG-7192M battery.

The voice coil itself is shaped rather like an arrowhead, and made of doubly coated copper magnet wire. The inner layer is insulation, and the outer is thermoplastic, which bonds the coil together after it is wound on a form, making it self-supporting. The portions of the coil along the two sides of the arrowhead (which point to the actuator bearing center) interact with the magnetic field, developing a tangential force that rotates the actuatorSONY PCG-8113M battery. Current flowing radially outward along one side of the arrowhead and radially inward on the other produces the tangential force. If the magnetic field were uniform, each side would generate opposing forces that would cancel each other out. Therefore the surface of the magnet is half N pole, half S pole, with the radial dividing line in the middle, causing the two sides of the coil to see opposite magnetic fields and produce forces that add instead of canceling. Currents along the top and bottom of the coil produce radial forces that do not rotate the headSONY PCG-8112M battery.

The HDD's electronics control the movement of the actuator and the rotation of the disk, and perform reads and writes on demand from the disk controller. Feedback of the drive electronics is accomplished by means of special segments of the disk dedicated to servo feedback. These are either complete concentric circles (in the case of dedicated servo technology), or segments interspersed with real data (in the case of embedded servo technology) SONY PCG-7134M battery. The servo feedback optimizes the signal to noise ratio of the GMR sensors by adjusting the voice-coil of the actuated arm. The spinning of the disk also uses a servo motor. Modern disk firmware is capable of scheduling reads and writes efficiently on the platter surfaces and remapping sectors of the media which have failed.

Error handling[edit]

Modern drives make extensive use of error correction codes (ECCs), particularly Reed–Solomon error correctionSONY PCG-7131M battery. These techniques store extra bits, determined by mathematical formulas, for each block of data; the extra bits allow many errors to be corrected invisibly. The extra bits themselves take up space on the HDD, but allow higher recording densities to be employed without causing uncorrectable errors, resulting in much larger storage capacity.[25] In the newest drives of 2009, low-density parity-check codes (LDPC) were supplanting Reed-Solomon; LDPC codes enable performance close to the Shannon Limit and thus provide the highest storage density available. SONY PCG-7122M battery

Typical HDDs attempt to "remap" the data in a physical sector that is failing to a spare physical sector—hopefully while the errors in the bad sector are still few enough that the ECC can recover the data without loss. The S.M.A.R.T-Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology system counts the total number of errors in the entire HDD fixed by ECC and the total number of remappings, as the occurrence of many such errors may predict HDD failureSONY PCG-7121M battery .

Future development[edit]

HDD areal densities have shown a long term compound annual growth rate not substantively different from Moore's Law, most recently in the range of 20-25% annually, with desktop 3.5" drives estimated to hit 12 TB around 2016.[27] New magnetic storage technologies are being developed to support higher areal density growth and maintain the competitiveness of HDDs with potentially competitive products such as flash memory-based solid-state drives (SSDs). These new HDD technologies includeSONY PCG-7113M battery:

Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR)[28][29]

Bit-patterned recording (BPR)[30]

Current Perpendicular to Plane giant magnetoresistance (CPP/GMR) heads[27]

Shingled Write[27]

With these new technologies the relative position of HDDs and SSDs with regard to their cost and performance is not projected to change through 2016.[27]



The capacity of an HDD reported to an end user by the operating system is less than the amount stated by a drive or system manufacturer due to amongst other things, different units of measuring capacity, capacity consumed by the file system and/or redundancySONY PCG-7112M battery.


Because modern disk drives appear to their interface as a contiguous set of logical blocks their gross capacity can be calculated by multiplying the number of blocks by the size of the block. This information is available from the manufacturer's specification and from the drive itself through use of special utilities invoking low level commands. SONY PCG-8Z3M battery 

The gross capacity of older HDDs can be calculated by multiplying for each zone of the drive the number of cylinders by the number of heads by the number of sectors/zone by the number of bytes/sector (most commonly 512) and then summing the totals for all zones. Some modern SATA drives will also report cylinder-head-sector (C/H/S) values to the CPU but they are no longer actual physical parameters since the reported numbers are constrained by historic operating-system interfacesSONY PCG-8Z2M battery.

The old C/H/S scheme has been replaced by logical block addressing. In some cases, to try to "force-fit" the C/H/S scheme to large-capacity drives, the number of heads was given as 64, although no modern drive has anywhere near 32 platters.


In modern HDDs, spare capacity for defect management is not included in the published capacity; however in many early HDDs a certain number of sectors were reserved for spares, thereby reducing capacity available to end usersSONY PCG-8Z1M battery .

In some systems, there may be hidden partitions used for system recovery that reduce the capacity available to the end user.

For RAID subsystems, data integrity and fault-tolerance requirements also reduce the realized capacity. For example, a RAID1 subsystem will be about half the total capacity as a result of data mirroring. RAID5 subsystems with x drives, would lose 1/x of capacity to paritySONY PCG-8Y3M battery. RAID subsystems are multiple drives that appear to be one drive or more drives to the user, but provides a great deal of fault-tolerance. Most RAID vendors use some form of checksums to improve data integrity at the block level. For many vendors, this involves using HDDs with sectors of 520 bytes per sector to contain 512 bytes of user data and eight checksum bytes or using separate 512-byte sectors for the checksum data. SONY PCG-8Y2M battery  [33]

File system use[edit]

Main article: Disk formatting

The presentation of an HDD to its host is determined by its controller. This may differ substantially from the drive's native interface particularly in mainframes or servers.

Modern HDDs, such as SAS[31] and SATA[32] drives, appear at their interfaces as a contiguous set of logical blocks; typically 512 bytes long but the industry is in the process of changing to 4,096-byte logical blocks; see Advanced Format.[ SONY PCG-7Z1M battery34]

The process of initializing these logical blocks on the physical disk platters is called low level formatting which is usually performed at the factory and is not normally changed in the field.[note 5]

High level formatting then writes the file system structures into selected logical blocks to make the remaining logical blocks available to the host OS and its applications.[35] The operating system file system uses some of the disk space to organize files on the diskSONY PCG-6W2M battery , recording their file names and the sequence of disk areas that represent the file. Examples of data structures stored on disk to retrieve files include the file allocation table (FAT) in the MS-DOS file system and inodes in many UNIX file systems, as well as other operating system data structures. As a consequence not all the space on an HDD is available for user files. This file system overhead is usually less than 1% on drives larger than 100 MBSONY PCG-5J5M battery.

The total capacity of HDDs is given by manufacturers in megabytes (1 MB = 1,000,000 bytes), gigabytes (1 GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes) or terabytes (1 TB = 1,000,000,000,000 bytes).[38][39][40][36][41][42] This numbering convention, where prefixes like mega- and giga- denote powers of 1,000, is also used for data transmission rates and DVD capacities. However, the convention is different from that used by manufacturers of memory (RAM, ROM) and CDs, where prefixes like kilo- and mega- mean powers of 1,024SONY PCG-5K2M battery .

The practice of using prefixes assigned to powers of 1,000 within the HDD and computer industries dates back to the early days of computing.[43] By the 1970s million, mega and M were consistently being used in the powers of 1,000 sense to describe HDD capacity.[44][45][46]

Computers do not internally represent HDD or memory capacity in powers of 1,024; reporting it in this manner is just a convention.[47] Microsoft Windows uses the powers of 1,024 convention when reporting HDD capacity, SONY PCG-5K1M battery thus an HDD offered by its manufacturer as a 1 TB drive is reported by these OSes as a 931 GB HDD. Mac OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard"), uses powers of 1,000 when reporting HDD capacity.

In the case of "mega-", there is a nearly 5% difference between the powers of 1,000 definition and the powers of 1,024 definition. Furthermore, the difference is compounded by 2.4% with each incrementally larger prefix (gigabyte, terabyte, etc.). The discrepancy between the two conventions for measuring capacity was the subject of several class action SONY PCG-5J4M batterysuits against HDD manufacturers. The plaintiffs argued that the use of decimal measurements effectively misled consumers[48][49] while the defendants denied any wrongdoing or liability, asserting that their marketing and advertising complied in all respects with the law and that no class member sustained any damages or injuries.[50]

In December 1998, standards organizations addressed these dual definitions of the conventional prefixes by standardizing on unique binary prefixes and prefix symbols to denote multiples of 1,024, such as "mebibyte (MiB)" SONY PCG-5J1M battery, which exclusively denotes 220 or 1,048,576 bytes.[51] This standard has seen little adoption by the computer industry, and the conventionally prefixed forms of "byte" continue to denote slightly different values depending on context.[52][53]

minicomputer hard disks were of widely varying dimensions, typically in free standing cabinets the size of washing machines or designed to fit a 19" rack. In 1962, IBM introduced its model 1311 disk, which used 14 inch (nominal size) plattersSONY PCG-5G2M battery. This became a standard size for mainframe and minicomputer drives for many years.[65] Such large platters were never used with microprocessor-based systems.

With increasing sales of microcomputers having built in floppy-disk drives (FDDs), HDDs that would fit to the FDD mountings became desirable. Thus HDD Form factors, initially followed those of 8-inch, 5.25-inch, and 3.5-inch floppy disk drives. Because there were no smaller floppy disk drives, smaller HDD form factors developed from product offerings or industry standardsSony VAIO PCG-8131M battery.

8 inch

9.5 in × 4.624 in × 14.25 in (241.3 mm × 117.5 mm × 362 mm). In 1979, Shugart Associates' SA1000 was the first form factor compatible HDD, having the same dimensions and a compatible interface to the 8" FDD.

5.25 inch

5.75 in × 3.25 in × 8 in (146.1 mm × 82.55 mm × 203 mm). This smaller form factor, first used in an HDD by Seagate in 1980,[66] was the same size as full-height 51⁄4-inch-diameter (130 mm) FDD, 3.25-inches high. This is twice as high as "half height"; i.e., 1.63 in (41.4 mm) Sony VAIO PCG-8152M battery. Most desktop models of drives for optical 120 mm disks (DVD, CD) use the half height 5¼" dimension, but it fell out of fashion for HDDs. The Quantum Bigfoot HDD was the last to use it in the late 1990s, with "low-profile" (≈25 mm) and "ultra-low-profile" (≈20 mm) high versions.

3.5 inch

4 in × 1 in × 5.75 in (101.6 mm × 25.4 mm × 146 mm) = 376.77344 cm³. This smaller form factor is similar to that used in an HDD by Rodime in 1983,[67] which was the same size as the "half height" 3½" FDD, i.e., 1.63 inches high. Today, the 1-inch high ("slimline" or "low-profile") version of this form factor is the most popular form used in most desktopsSony VAIO PCG-31311M battery.

2.5 inch

2.75 in × 0.275–0.59 in × 3.945 in (69.85 mm × 7–15 mm × 100 mm) = 48.895–104.775 cm3. This smaller form factor was introduced by PrairieTek in 1988;[68] there is no corresponding FDD. It came to be widely used for HDDs in mobile devices (laptops, music players, etc.) and for solid-state drives (SSDs), by 2008 replacing some 3.5 inch enterprise-class drives.[69] It is also used in the PlayStation 3[70] and Xbox 360Sony VAIO PCG-31111M battery video game consoles. Drives 9.5 mm high became an unofficial standard for all except the largest-capacity laptop drives (usually having two platters inside); 12.5 mm-high drives, typically with three platters, are used for maximum capacity, but will not fit most laptop computers. Enterprise-class drives can have a height up to 15 mm.[71] Seagate released a 7mm drive aimed at entry level laptops and high end netbooks in December 2009. Sony VAIO PCG-8112M battery

1.8 inch

54 mm × 8 mm × 71 mm = 30.672 cm³. This form factor, originally introduced by Integral Peripherals in 1993, evolved into the ATA-7 LIF with dimensions as stated. For a time it was increasingly used in digital audio players and subnotebooks, but its popularity decreased to the point where this form factor is increasingly rare and only a small percentage of the overall market. Sony VAIO PCG-7186M battery [73]

1 inch

42.8 mm × 5 mm × 36.4 mm. This form factor was introduced in 1999 as IBM's Microdrive to fit inside a CF Type II slot. Samsung calls the same form factor "1.3 inch" drive in its product literature.[74]

0.85 inch

24 mm × 5 mm × 32 mm. Toshiba announced this form factor in January 2004[75] for use in mobile phones and similar applications, including SD/MMC slot compatible HDDs optimized for video storage on 4G handsets. Toshiba manufactured a 4 GB (MK4001MTD) and an 8 GB (MK8003MTD) version[76] and holds the Guinness World Record for the smallest HDD. Sony VAIO PCG-7171M battery [77]

As of 2012, 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard disks were the most popular sizes.

By 2009 all manufacturers had discontinued the development of new products for the 1.3-inch, 1-inch and 0.85-inch form factors due to falling prices of flash memory,[78][79] which has no moving parts.

While these sizes are customarily described by an approximately correct figure in inches, actual sizes have long been specified in millimetersSony VAIO PCG-9Z1M battery.

Performance characteristics[edit]

Main article: Hard disk drive performance characteristics

Time to access data[edit]

The factors that limit the time to access the data on an HDD are mostly related to the mechanical nature of the rotating disks and moving heads. Seek time is a measure of how long it takes the head assembly to travel to the track of the disk that contains data. Rotational latency is incurred because the desired disk sector may not be directly under the head when data transfer is requested. These two delays are on the order of milliseconds eachSony VAIO PCG-5S1M battery. The bit rate or data transfer rate (once the head is in the right position) creates delay which is a function of the number of blocks transferred; typically relatively small, but can be quite long with the transfer of large contiguous files. Delay may also occur if the drive disks are stopped to save energy.

An HDD's Average Access Time is its average Seek time which technically is the time to do all possible seeks divided by the number of all possible seeks, but in practice is determined by statistical methods or simply approximated as the time of a seek over one-third of the number of tracks. Sony VAIO PCG-5P1M battery [80]

Defragmentation is a procedure used to minimize delay in retrieving data by moving related items to physically proximate areas on the disk.[81] Some computer operating systems perform defragmentation automatically. Although automatic defragmentation is intended to reduce access delays, performance will be temporarily reduced while the procedure is in progress.[82]

Time to access data can be improved by increasing rotational speed (thus reducing latency) and/or by reducing the time spent seekingSony VAIO PCG-5N2M battery. Increasing areal density increases throughput by increasing data rate and by increasing the amount of data under a set of heads, thereby potentially reducing seek activity for a given amount of data. Based on historic trends, analysts predict a future growth in HDD areal density (and therefore capacity) of about 40% per year.[83] The time to access data has not kept up with throughput increases, which themselves have not kept up with growth in storage capacitySony VAIO PCG-3C2M battery.

Seek time[edit]

Average seek time ranges from 3 ms[84] for high-end server drives, to 15 ms for mobile drives, with the most common mobile drives at about 12 ms[85] and the most common desktop type typically being around 9 ms. The first HDD had an average seek time of about 600 ms;[2] by the middle 1970s HDDs were available with seek times of about 25 ms.[86] Some early PC drives used a stepper motor to move the heads, and as a result had seek times as slow as 80–120 msSony VAIO PCG-8161M battery, but this was quickly improved by voice coil type actuation in the 1980s, reducing seek times to around 20 ms. Seek time has continued to improve slowly over time.

Some desktop and laptop computer systems allow the user to make a tradeoff between seek performance and drive noise. Faster seek rates typically require more energy usage to quickly move the heads across the platter, causing louder noises from the pivot bearing and greater device vibrations as the heads are rapidly accelerated during the start of the seek motion and decelerated at the end of the seek motionSony VAIO PCG-8141M battery. Quiet operation reduces movement speed and acceleration rates, but at a cost of reduced seek performance.


Latency is the delay for the rotation of the disk to bring the required disk sector under the read-write mechanism. It depends on rotational speed of a disk, measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). Average rotational latency is shown in the table below, based on the statistical relation that the average latency in milliseconds for such a drive is one-half the rotational periodSony VAIO PCG-3J1M battery.

Data transfer rate[edit]

As of 2010, a typical 7,200-rpm desktop HDD has a sustained "disk-to-buffer" data transfer rate up to 1,030 Mbits/sec.[87] This rate depends on the track location; the rate is higher for data on the outer tracks (where there are more data sectors per rotation) and lower toward the inner tracks (where there are fewer data sectors per rotation); and is generally somewhat higher for 10,000-rpm drivesSony VAIO PCG-3H1M battery. A current widely used standard for the "buffer-to-computer" interface is 3.0 Gbit/s SATA, which can send about 300 megabyte/s (10-bit encoding) from the buffer to the computer, and thus is still comfortably ahead of today's disk-to-buffer transfer rates. Data transfer rate (read/write) can be measured by writing a large file to disk using special file generator tools, then reading back the file. Transfer rate can be influenced by file system fragmentation and the layout of the files. Sony VAIO PCG-3F1M battery

HDD data transfer rate depends upon the rotational speed of the platters and the data recording density. Because heat and vibration limit rotational speed, advancing density becomes the main method to improve sequential transfer rates. Higher speeds require more power absorbed by the electric engine, which hence warms up more. While areal density advances by increasing both the number of tracks across the disk and the number of sectors per track
Sony VAIO PCG-3C1M battery
, only the latter increases the data transfer rate for a given rpm. Since data transfer rate performance only tracks one of the two components of areal density, its performance improves at a lower rate.[citation needed]

Other considerations[edit]

Other performance considerations include power consumption, audible noise, and shock resistance.

Inner view of a 1998 Seagate HDD which used Parallel ATA interface

Main article: Hard disk drive interface

HDDs are accessed over one of a number of bus types, including as of 2011 parallel ATA (PATA, also called IDE or EIDE; described before the introduction of SATA as ATA), Serial ATA (SATA), SCSI, Serial Attached SCSI (SAS), and Fibre Channel. Bridge circuitry is sometimes used to connect HDDs to buses with which they cannot communicate natively, such as IEEE 1394, USB and SCSISony VAIO PCG-9Z2L battery.

Modern HDDs present a consistent interface to the rest of the computer, no matter what data encoding scheme is used internally. Typically a DSP in the electronics inside the HDD takes the raw analog voltages from the read head and uses PRML and Reed–Solomon error correction[88] to decode the sector boundaries and sector data, then sends that data out the standard interface. That DSP also watches the error rate detected by error detection and correctionSony VAIO PCG-9Z1L battery, and performs bad sector remapping, data collection for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology, and other internal tasks.

Modern interfaces connect an HDD to a host bus interface adapter (today typically integrated into the "south bridge") with one data/control cable. Each drive also has an additional power cable, usually direct to the power supply unit.

Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), originally named SASI for Shugart Associates System Interface, was standard on serversSony VAIO PCG-9131L battery, workstations, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and Apple Macintosh computers through the mid-1990s, by which time most models had been transitioned to IDE (and later, SATA) family disks. The range limitations of the data cable allows for external SCSI devices.

Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE), later standardized under the name AT Attachment (ATA, with the alias P-ATA or PATA (Parallel ATA) retroactively added upon introduction of SATA) moved the HDD controller from the interface card to the disk drive. This helped to standardize the host/contoller interfaceSony VAIO PCG-8161L battery, reduce the programming complexity in the host device driver, and reduced system cost and complexity. The 40-pin IDE/ATA connection transfers 16 bits of data at a time on the data cable. The data cable was originally 40-conductor, but later higher speed requirements for data transfer to and from the HDD led to an "ultra DMA" mode, known as UDMA. Progressively swifter versions of this standard ultimately added the requirement for an 80-conductor variant of the same cableSony VAIO PCG-8152L battery, where half of the conductors provides grounding necessary for enhanced high-speed signal quality by reducing cross talk.

EIDE was an unofficial update (by Western Digital) to the original IDE standard, with the key improvement being the use of direct memory access (DMA) to transfer data between the disk and the computer without the involvement of the CPU, an improvement later adopted by the official ATA standards. By directly transferring data between memory and disk, DMA eliminates the need for the CPU to copy byte per byte, therefore allowing it to process other tasks while the data transfer occursSony VAIO PCG-8141L battery.

Fibre Channel (FC) is a successor to parallel SCSI interface on enterprise market. It is a serial protocol. In disk drives usually the Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL) connection topology is used. FC has much broader usage than mere disk interfaces, and it is the cornerstone of storage area networks (SANs). Recently other protocols for this field, like iSCSI and ATA over Ethernet have been developed as well. Confusingly, drives usually use copper twisted-pair cables for Fibre Channel, not fibre opticsSony VAIO PCG-8131L battery. The latter are traditionally reserved for larger devices, such as servers or disk array controllers.

Serial Attached SCSI (SAS). The SAS is a new generation serial communication protocol for devices designed to allow for much higher speed data transfers and is compatible with SATA. SAS uses a mechanically identical data and power connector to standard 3.5-inch SATA1/SATA2 HDDs, and many server-oriented SAS RAID controllers are also capable of addressing SATA HDDs. SAS uses serial communication instead of the parallel method found in traditional SCSI devices but still uses SCSI commandsSony VAIO PCG-81312L battery.

Serial ATA (SATA). The SATA data cable has one data pair for differential transmission of data to the device, and one pair for differential receiving from the device, just like EIA-422. That requires that data be transmitted serially. A similar differential signaling system is used in RS485, LocalTalk, USB, FireWire, and differential SCSISony VAIO PCG-81214L battery.

Integrity and failure[edit]

Close-up HDD head resting on disk platter; its mirror reflection is visible on the platter surface

Main articles: Hard disk drive failure and Data recovery

Due to the extremely close spacing between the heads and the disk surface, HDDs are vulnerable to being damaged by a head crash—a failure of the disk in which the head scrapes across the platter surface, often grinding away the thin magnetic film and causing data loss. Head crashes can be caused by electronic failure, a sudden power failureSony VAIO PCG-81115L battery, physical shock, contamination of the drive's internal enclosure, wear and tear, corrosion, or poorly manufactured platters and heads.

The HDD's spindle system relies on air pressure inside the disk enclosure to support the heads at their proper flying height while the disk rotates. HDDs require a certain range of air pressures in order to operate properly. The connection to the external environment and pressure occurs through a small hole in the enclosure (about 0.5 mm in breadth), usually with a filter on the inside (the breather filter). Sony VAIO PCG-81114L battery If the air pressure is too low, then there is not enough lift for the flying head, so the head gets too close to the disk, and there is a risk of head crashes and data loss. Specially manufactured sealed and pressurized disks are needed for reliable high-altitude operation, above about 3,000 m (9,800 ft).[90] Modern disks include temperature sensors and adjust their operation to the operating environment. Breather holes can be seen on all disk drives—they usually have a sticker next to themSony VAIO PCG-81113L battery, warning the user not to cover the holes. The air inside the operating drive is constantly moving too, being swept in motion by friction with the spinning platters. This air passes through an internal recirculation (or "recirc") filter to remove any leftover contaminants from manufacture, any particles or chemicals that may have somehow entered the enclosure, and any particles or outgassing generated internally in normal operation. Very high humidity for extended periods can corrode the heads and plattersSony VAIO PCG-7142L battery.

For giant magnetoresistive (GMR) heads in particular, a minor head crash from contamination (that does not remove the magnetic surface of the disk) still results in the head temporarily overheating, due to friction with the disk surface, and can render the data unreadable for a short period until the head temperature stabilizes (so called "thermal asperity", a problem which can partially be dealt with by proper electronic filtering of the read signal) Sony VAIO PCG-7141L battery.

When a mechanical hard disk requires repairs, the easiest method is to replace the circuit board using an identical hard disk, provided it is the circuit board that has malfunctioned. In the case of read-write head faults, they can be replaced using specialized tools in a dust-free environment. If the disk platters are undamaged, they can be transferred into an identical enclosure and the data can be copied or cloned onto a new drive. In the event of disk-platter failuresSony VAIO PCG-71111L battery, disassembly and imaging of the disk platters may be required.[91] For logical damage to file systems, a variety of tools, including fsck on UNIX-like systems and CHKDSK on Windows, can be used for data recovery. Recovery from logical damage can require file carving.

A 2011 summary of research into SSD and magnetic disk failure patterns by Tom's Hardware summarized research findings as follows:[92]

MTBF does not indicate reliability; the annualized failure rate is higher and usually more relevant.

Magnetic disks do not have a specific tendency to fail during early use, and temperature only has a minor effect; instead, failure rates steadily increase with ageSony VAIO PCG-61411L battery.

SMART warns of mechanical issues but not other issues affecting reliability, and is therefore not a reliable indicator of condition.

Failure rates of drives sold as "enterprise" and "consumer" are "very much similar", although customized for their different environments.

In drive arrays, one drive's failure significantly increases the short-term chance of a second drive failingSony VAIO PCG-61112L battery.

3.0 TB 3.5" Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex plug and play external USB 3.0-compatible drive (left), 750 GB 3.5" Seagate Technology push-button external USB 2.0 drive (right), and a 500 GB 2.5" generic brand plug and play external USB 2.0 drive (front).

External removable HDDs[note 11] typically connect via USB. Plug and play drive functionality offers system compatibility, and features large storage options and portable design. External HDDs are available in 2.5" and 3.5" sizes, and as of March 2012 their capacities generally range from 160GB to 2TBSony VAIO PCG-61111L battery. Common sizes are 160GB, 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 640GB, 750GB, 1TB, and 2TB.[93][94]

External HDDs are available as preassembled integrated products, or may be assembled by combining an external enclosure (with USB or other interface) with a separately purchased drive.

Features such as biometric security or multiple interfaces are available at a higher cost.[95]

External hard drives generally have a slower transfer rate than that of an internally mounted hard drive connecting through SATASony VAIO PCG-5T4L battery.

Market segments[edit]


Desktop HDDs typically store between 60 GB and 4 TB and rotate at 5,400 to 10,000 rpm, and have a media transfer rate of 0.5 Gbit/s or higher (1 GB = 109 bytes; 1 Gbit/s = 109 bit/s). As of September 2011, the highest capacity consumer HDDs store 4 TB.[54]

Mobile HDDs or laptop HDDs, smaller than their desktop and enterprise counterparts, tend to be slower and have lower capacity. Mobile HDDs spin at 4,200 rpm, 5,200 rpm, 5,400 rpm, or 7,200 rpm, with 5,400 rpm being typicalSony VAIO PCG-5T3L battery. 7,200 rpm drives tend to be more expensive and have smaller capacities, while 4,200 rpm models usually have very high storage capacities. Because of smaller platter(s), mobile HDDs generally have lower capacity than their greater desktop counterparts.

Enterprise HDDs are typically used with multiple-user computers running enterprise software. Examples are: transaction processing databases, internet infrastructure (email, webserver, e-commerce), scientific computing software, and nearline storage management software. Enterprise drives commonly operate continuously ("24/7")Sony VAIO PCG-5T2L battery in demanding environments while delivering the highest possible performance without sacrificing reliability. Maximum capacity is not the primary goal, and as a result the drives are often offered in capacities that are relatively low in relation to their cost.[96] The fastest enterprise HDDs spin at 10,000 or 15,000 rpm, and can achieve sequential media transfer speeds above 1.6 Gbit/s[97] and a sustained transfer rate up to 1 Gbit/s.[97] Drives running at 10,000 or 15,000 rpm use smaller platters to mitigate increased power requirements (as they have less air drag) Sony VAIO PCG-5S3L battery and therefore generally have lower capacity than the highest capacity desktop drives. Enterprise HDDs are commonly connected through Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) or Fibre Channel (FC). Some support multiple ports, so they can be connected to a redundant host bus adapter. They can be reformatted with sector sizes larger than 512 bytes (often 520, 524, 528 or 536 bytes). The additional storage can be used by hardware RAID cards or to store a Data Integrity FieldSony VAIO PCG-5S2L battery.

Consumer electronics HDDs include drives embedded into digital video recorders and automotive vehicles. The former are configured to provide a guaranteed streaming capacity, even in the face of read and write errors, while the latter are built to resist larger amounts of shock.

The exponential increases in disk space and data access speeds of HDDs have enabled consumer products that require large storage capacities, such as digital video recorders and digital audio players.[98] In additionSony VAIO PCG-5S1L battery, the availability of vast amounts of cheap storage has made viable a variety of web-based services with extraordinary capacity requirements, such as free-of-charge web search, web archiving, and video sharing (Google, Internet Archive, YouTube, etc.).

Diagram of HDD manufacturer consolidation

See also: History of hard disk drives and List of defunct hard disk manufacturers

More than 200 companies have manufactured HDDs over time. But consolidations have concentrated production into just three manufacturers today: Western Digital, Seagate, and ToshibaSony VAIO PCG-5R2L battery.

Worldwide revenues for HDDs shipments are expected to reach $33 billion in 2013, down about 12% from $37.8 billion in 2012. This corresponds to a 2013 unit shipment forecast of 552 million compared to 577 million units in 2012 and 624 million units in 2011. The estimated 2013 market shares are about 40-45% each for Seagate and Western Digital and 13-16% for ToshibaSony VAIO PCG-5R1L battery

HDDs are traditionally symbolized as a stylized stack of platters or as a cylinder and are found in diagrams, or on lights to indicate HDD access. In most modern operating systems, HDDs are represented by an illustration or photograph of the drive enclosureSony VAIO PCG-5P4L battery.

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