Hard Drive Buying Guide

Hard Drive Buying Guide

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Introduction

Apart from the CPU and memory, the hard drive is an important component of a computer system. The hard disk drive is used for storing and accessing the operating system, programs, and data permanently. A computer hard drive also allows users to store digital photos, play games and listen to music through their PC. Today every computer has an internal hard drive. However, users also have the facility to increase their storage by attaching an external hard drive. These external hard drives can be easily connected to any computer system via a USB port.

Purpose of the Guide

The hard drive is a crucial part of the computer system. As such, it is essential to buy a hard drive that provides many features. The hard drive proves useful to store digital media like photos and videos securely. This buying guide showcases different options for storing digital media from the perspective of every photographer. It provides in-depth knowledge about the options for storing digital media for amateurs, enthusiasts, as well as professional photographers. This buying guide also highlights the different aspects and importance of hard drives that can help to improve the overall computing experience.

What is a Hard Drive?

The computer's hard drive is used for two basic functions - to store data permanently and boot the computer. Due to these functions, the hard drives are considered as an integral part of the computer system. Most of the hard drives used in desktop and laptop computers function on HDD technology. These hard drives are made of spinning metal plates with a magnetic coating. However, some of the lighter laptops also use solid state or SSD drives that store data on flash chips. All types of hard drives, like laptop hard drives, comprise of small platters that are coated with magnetically sensitive material. These platters can be stacked up to five high and run at spin rates up to 15,000 RPM. Some performance hard drives for desktop PCs run at 7,200 RPM while high-end desktop hard drives max out at 10,000 RPM. Also, most servers run at 15K RPM.

Features of a Hard Drive

When selecting a hard drive, it is essential to know its distinct features. Some of the features include rotational speed, interface, capacity and many more. Let us check out the fundamental features that users need to consider while buying a hard drive.

Capacity

Most typical hard drives as of this writing are of at least 250 GB. That is enough for storing the operating system, applications, e-mail messages and documents. Users who archive or edit digital photos, digital audio or digital videos need more storage space. Some people use two smaller internal hard drives instead of one big hard drive as it helps in saving money. Most 2.5 inch or 1.8 inches portable hard drives used with notebook computers provide 250 GB storage space. Users who require more space to store data must opt for external hard drives. The storage capacities of external hard drives as of this writing usually range from 160 GB to 4 TB.

Rational Speed

Most of the 3.5 inch desktop-size internal SATA hard drives and PATA drives spin at 7200 RPM. However, some others that spin at 10,000 RPM are ideal for enthusiasts and enterprise users. The rotational speed of a hard drive is determined with the speed at which its disks spin and the amount of data read or written on them. Portable external drives have the maximum rotational speeds. Currently, the rotational speeds for different hard drive models are 4200 RPM, 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM. Usually, hard drives with 5400 RPM are used.

Interface

Most of the internal drives used in PCs have the SATA interface that supports maximum transfer rates of 150 MB or 300 MB per second. PATA drives support maximum transfer rates of 100 MB per second or 133 MB per second and so are still widely available. SATA and PATA interfaces are not backward compatible which means that SATA drives work with the SATA interface only, and same applies for PATA drive. Some inexpensive PCI Express and PCI add-in cards are available that let users add an SATA interface to a computer that lacks it. However, PATA and PATA/SATA models are available only for PCI. Many external drives are equipped with a USB 2.0 or dual USB/FireWire interface. USB 2.0 performs slightly slower than a compatible internal hard drive while FireWire 800 is fast on desktop PCs. To get high performance external storage, opt for an eSATA direct-attached drive that provides speeds equivalent to an internal drive. These hard drives may come with a USB connection.

RAID Setup

Most high-end desktops and multiple drive Network-Attached Storage box (NAS) use RAID configurations. The motherboard or add-in drive controller must support RAID to use this feature. RAID 0 is a common setup that delivers better performance. It splits or strips the data across multiple drives. However, the user needs to keep a backup of their data as it may be lost if one of the drive fails. RAID 1 is a popular alternative in which the data is written repeatedly or mirrored across multiple drives. One cannot lose any data if one drive fails and gives the opportunity to install a new drive and rebuild the array. In most cases, dual drive RAID boxes provide the alternative of RAID 0 or RAID 1 while multiple drive direct-attached or network-attached boxes support up to five drive bays.

Seek Speed

The seek speed refers to the amount of speed at which the drives can find a particular piece of data. This feature is mostly used when the drive needs to assemble many small pieces of data that are scattered in different sectors of the hard drive.

Buffer

The hard drive fetches the data that the systems requests and loads it into the buffer memory. It also adds extra information that the processor may need. A large buffer size keeps the data flowing better to do disk-intensive tasks like file searching easily. Most of the disk drives have buffers of 8 GB or 16 GB while PATA drives may have 2 MB buffers.

Noise

Noise can be a significant issue if the computer is used as an entertainment option in the living room. Many versions of hard drives are designed to be suitable for personal video recorder or media streaming environments. It is preferable to opt for specialty drives that can reduce the noise output created by the computer system.

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Utilities of a Hard Drive

It is necessary to compare the features provided by the different hard drives as every user’s requirements differ. Let us look at the requirements of different photographers and the hard drives that are suitable for them.

Hard Drive Types

We will first look at the type of hard drives available.

High Performance Secure (RAID) Semi-portable Storage for Professionals

Most professional photographers work on a tight schedule, so they cannot afford to disrupt their work due to hard drive failure. It is preferable to get a RAID 1 array with a minimum of two mirrored hard drives. Due to this, one drive will still be in a working order when the other fails.

High Performance NAS for Studio Professionals

Multiple users work on large files and edit videos at the same time. This requires higher performance from the storage system. So, it is necessary for studio professionals to use a hard drive with hardware fault tolerance. The perfect solution for studio professionals is RAID 5 array packaged in an NAS box with a minimum of three mirrored devices.

High Performance Portable Storage for Professionals

Another solution is a rugged drive that ensures that the storage is secure. These robust drives are packed in impact-cushioned cases.

RAID 1 Semi-portable Storage for Semi-professionals and Enthusiast Photographers

Two RAID 1 portable hard drive units are the perfect solution to protect from data corruption and drive failure consequences.

Portable Storage for Enthusiast Photographer and Semi-professionals

The AC mains powered 3.5 inches portable USB3 hard disk drives are the perfect choice for enthusiast and semi-professionals.

Compact Portable Storage for Semi-professionals and Enthusiast Photographers

The 2.5 inch compact and lightweight USB-powered hard drives are mostly found inside the laptop computers. They are convenient to use during travel. These hard drives use USB 3.0 ports and offer maximum performance with future-proofing.

Photographer Needs

Now that you know about the requirements of different photographers, let us check out the several types of users and the hard drives that are suitable for them.

General users

These users mostly use computers for web surfing, create Microsoft Word documents, checking e-mail and performing casual digital imaging. A lower capacity drive is perfect for these users. Choose an inexpensive 300 GB drive with the interface that is convenient for their needs, as it offers plenty of space without needing any concern of running out quickly.

Multimedia hounds

Users who store loads of digital images, videos or audio need to opt for a single 750 GB or 1 TB hard drive. It is preferable that users who like to edit images and videos opt for an internal and external hard drive. Make sure that they are eSATA drives as they are the best for these users.

Gamers

Most performance-hungry gamers prefer a RAID 0 rig with two Western Digital 10,000 rpm WD Raptor drives. These hard drives are available in capacities 36 GB, 74 GB and 150 GB.

Shared Storage

Users who want an NAS device need to get the largest capacity hard drive as several people will be storing their digital photos and MP3 collections in it.

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Top 4 Manufacturers

Since hard drives are an important part of computer systems, many manufacturers are providing high quality models to suit every user’s needs. Let us check out some of the top manufacturers of hard drives who offer high quality hard drives.

Lacie

Lacie is a famous manufacturer of high quality computer storage products. It provides many high-end products for desktop storage, wireless storage, network storage, mobile storage and much more.

Sony

Sony is a leading brand of electronic products. Some of its products include computers, tablets, digital cameras, televisions, video cameras, mobile phones, home theatre, hard drives, portable audio and much more.

Transcend

Transcend is a globally recognized company that offers products including flash memory cards, digital photo frames, MP3 players, USB flash drives, portable hard drives and others.

Seagate

Seagate is an industry leader in hard disk drives and storage solutions. It provides a broad range of solid state hybrid drives, hard drives and solid state drives.

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Terminology

When buying a hard disk drive, it is essential to know the relevant terms associated with it. Listed here are some of the important terms and their significance for a hard drive.

Capacity:
It determines storage space to store data on the hard drive. The typical storage capacity of hard drive is 250 GB as of this writing.
Rotational Speed:
It refers to the speed at which the disks spin and the amount of data read or written on them.
Interface:
There are two kinds of interface available - SATA and PATA. It determines the transfer rates at which the data is sent.
RAID Setup:
RAID configurations are used to deliver excellent performance. The motherboard or add-in drive controller must support RAID configurations.
Seek Speed:
It determines the amount of speed at which the drive can find a particular piece of data.
Buffer:
The hard drive uses buffer memory to load the data that the system requests.
Noise:
Noise can be reduced with speciality drives that are designed for personal video recorder or media streaming environments.

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Still have questions or need more information on hard drives? Contact us so we can help!