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What is a Hard Drive

The hard drive/disk is where all of your data is contained. From programs and games that you install to Windows and your personal files, everything is stored on your hard drive. Newbies to computer terminology often confuse memory (RAM) with the hard drive, although they are completely different things. RAM is where currently running programs and open files are temporarily stored when your computer is turned on. The hard disk is where all data is permanently stored and managed.

A hard disk consists of multiple spinning disks inside an enclosure. Faster hard drives have a higher spinning rate, measured in RPM (revolutions per minute). The slowest hard drives, such as those normally used in laptop computers, have a spin rate of 5400 while most desktop computers contain faster hard drives which spin at 7200 RPM. There are also solid state hard drives which do not contain any moving parts and thus read and write data much faster. These are far more expensive and are only available in lower capacities, however. The speed of the hard drive determines the amount of time that programs and files take to open, install or copy.

The most important statistic that you should consider when buying a hard drive is the capacity. The more space that you have available, the more programs you can install and the more movies, music and pictures you can store. Hard drive capacity is measured in gigabytes or terabytes and every year, capacities get larger and larger. Today's hard drives are typically at least 300 gigabytes. The largest hard drives are two terabytes or more.

Hard drives are also available in different sizes and there are external and internal versions. 2.5" hard drives are designed for laptop computers while 3.5" ones are used in desktop computers. External hard drives are typically regular hard drives enclosed in a special case containing a USB adapter allowing you to connect them to any computer and use them like a USB pen drive.

One point to consider is that many new computers appear to have multiple hard drives installed in them when you look at the available drives in Windows Explorer. This is, in fact, not usually the case. Hard drives are often partitioned so that they act like two or more separate drives, each with their own labels and drive letters assigned to them. Partitioning is useful for keeping data organized and computer manufacturers often place their system recovery software on a separate partition which is often hidden.


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