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How-To Choose a Notebook Hard Drive

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MattSlagle View Drop Down
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    Posted: 17 Apr 2008 at 1:09pm

How-To Choose a Notebook Hard Drive




A hard drive stores everything the computer uses to perform its tasks.  It stores this data on spinning magnetic disks or platters.  The bigger the hard drive, the more files and programs you can store.  The faster the hard drive, the faster the computer can process that information.  Before we begin, let us go over a few key terms.


Terms and Technologies


Rotational Speed:  The speed that the disk spins at.  Most notebook drives spin at 4200 RPM or 5400 RPM.  Higher quality drives may spin at even faster rates such as 7200 RPM.


Buffer Size or Cache:  The buffer is memory used to hold data that the drive needs to send to the computer for processing.  Sometimes the link between drive and computer cannot handle the amount of data that the drive can read, so this buffer is used to handle the traffic, and manage the data flow.  Also, this buffer is used to hold data that is commonly access, so multiple reads of the same data can be quickly accessed without waiting for the slower hard drive data.


Raid (Redundant Array of Independent Disks):  Raid is a technology that combines several disks.  It can either combine them into one drive, so different drives of different sizes and speeds can be seen as one, or duplicate the drive to back up data.  The different raid levels designate how the array works, employing one or both of the methods above.


Types of hard drives


There are three main types of mobile hard drives.



IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics), ATA, PATA:  Originally called IDE, and then switched over to ATA later on.  This was the original notebook drive technology.  This drive can reach speeds up to 5400 RPM.  This type is directly able to attach to the IDE port on a desktop motherboard, but requires a special converter to change the pins.


SATA (Serial ATA):  This is the evolution of ATA.  It takes the same types of hard drives and uses a serial interface to connect the drive to the motherboard.  This newer version is also much faster being able to take advantage of newer 7200 RPM drives.  This drive is able to be plugged directly into the SATA port on any desktop motherboard.


Make sure that your notebook is capable of using SATA before buying the drive.  SATA notebooks cannot use IDE and IDE cannot use SATA.



SSD (Solid State Drive):  The SSD is a drive using millions of transistors to hold the data instead of spinning magnetic platters.  This memory is much like the kind found in popular mp3 players and portable thumb drives.  Because there is no wait time for data, these types of drives feature the fastest read and write times.  Also because there are no moving parts, these drives consume much less energy to operate.  On the same note, these drives are able to survive with their data intact after crashes and drops that would leave a normal drive in pieces.  However, these drives can cost 10x or more than a comparably sized disk drive, but offer astounding performance.






Desktop or Office Use


For general usage, a hard drive with a rotational speed of 5400 RPM will be the perfect choice.  It offers low cost and good performance, and offers amazing drive space capacities.  Unless needed, anything over 80 GB is not recommended. 




If speed is a concern, using a SSD drive can offer the very best in performance.  If that option is too expensive, using one of the newer 7200 RPM SATA drives will offer the best performance possible.  If your notebook supports multiple drives, make your primary drive the fastest one possible.


Media Editing


The larger the hard drive the better for content authoring.  HD video files can easily consume Gigabytes of space, and multiple revisions of files can easily fill hundreds of GB.  A faster drive may help in loading and saving times, but drive size is more important than speed.

Edited by MattSlagle - 12 Jun 2008 at 5:14pm
Matt Slagle
AVADirect Research and Developement
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