Micwil Computer Consulting Presents the Canadian Computer Buying Guide

Canadian Computer Buying Guide - Hard Drive Information

The hard drive is the component in your computer that stores all your information and provides your computer with an 'identity'. All your preferences, all your data files, all your configurations and settings, and all your programs are stored on the hard drive. To continue with our metaphors, the hard drive would store your memories, experiences, personality and DNA all wrapped up into one. When saying 'my' computer, what makes your computer your own is your hard drive.

Having said this the hard drive seems to be a fairly critical component of your system, second in importance perhaps only to the motherboard. The number one factor when deciding which hard drive is right for you is reliability - an unreliable hard drive is the cause of the worst nightmares for any computer owner. Nothing is more difficult to recover from than errors caused by a faulty hard drive.

Hard drives store information on circular platters. When you read from or write information to a hard drive, it takes time for the platters to rotate into position. Every time the drive's read/write heads jump from track to track, you need to wait again for those platters to spin into place. This delay is known as latency. The average latency of a drive is measured by the time it takes for the platters to spin half a turn. The speed of data transfer is determined by the interface and given in a statistic called the burst transer rate.

There are several types of hard drives currently in production and use in computer systems. For most users, the entry level EIDE Hard drives are more than sufficient both in terms of performance and capacity. Typical features of a good quality EIDE Hard drives are:

  • < 9.0 ms access speed (or faster)
  • 7200 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute)
  • Ultra ATA/100 interface
  • 2 MB buffer
  • Burst transfer rate of 100 MB
  • MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) of 750,000 hours
  • 3 year warranty
  • Reliable manufacturer home page with technical support and FTP site

If you are running a server or need to free up system resources which EIDE drives require, then you may consider using a SCSI hard drive. These devices use a different type of interface with the motherboard and requires a SCSI controller card. Typical features of good quality Ultra2 SCSI drives are:

  • 7200 RPM
  • 240 MB/s maximum media data rate
  • 7.0 ms average seek time or better
  • Thermal Monitor
  • Fly Height Monitor
  • 2,048K Buffer
  • MTBF of 1,000,000 hours
  • 5 year warranty

For most computers, the current sizes of hard drives (smallest size available is 20 GB) are large enough to store all the programs and data you will use for the next several years. Only users working with large amounts of video and images will find the need for larger hard drives.


General Comments on Hard Drive Manufacturers

Note that each manufacturer is given ratings in three categories according to the feedback from clients and other companies in the computer industry, and industry magazines. These areas are performance, reliability and cost and the ratings range from a high of 10 to a low of 1. Note that a 10 in each categories would mean the fastest performance, most reliable and highest cost. The ideal ratings values would be 10,10,1.

Manufacturer/Comment Speed Quality Cost
Western Digital - High reliability, excellent support, history of quick response when flaws do occur 8 9 6
IBM - High reliability 7 7 5
Quantum - Good quality and performance 6 6 7
Seagate - Reliability concerns in the past 7 5 5
Fujitsu - Popular choice for 'econo' systems 4 4 4
Maxtor - Long history of poor quality, good tech support (they need it) 5 3 3
Samsung - Popular choice for 'econo' systems 3 2 1

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