10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hard Drives

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hard Drives

hard drive

All of our computers, no matter the size, consists of hard drives that store our software, music, video, and even our operating systems. Beyond that, there are probably at least a few things you didn’t know about this ubiquitous piece of computing equipment: 

  • The first hard disk:
    • Did you know? That the first hard disk was the size of two refrigerators. IBM manufactured the first commercial Hard disk and was in the RAMAC 305 System in September 13, 1956 as a means of secondary storage for computers. The hard disk holds 5 Megabytes of data at $10,000 per megabyte.
    • It was about the size of an industrial refrigerator and weighted one ton and uses 50-24inch platters. The ramac 305 system will operate from either a 208 or a 330 volts, 60 cycle, three phase, four wire service line. Standard hard drives today use 5 volts and 12 volts.
  • The smallest hard disk:
    • 1 inch is the smallest hard disk. ‘Microdrive’ is a miniature, 1 inch hard disk produced by IBM and Hitachi developed  in 1992. In 1999, IBM launched the first generation 1inch Microdrive with storage capacities of 170 MB and 340 MB. As of 2006, it has the maximum capacity of 12GB. There are 2 sizes of hard disk sold in the market 3.5 and 2.5 inch but if measured it’s nowhere near that size.
    • Because what is measured is the case of the hard disk. Open the hard disk case, measure the diameter of the platter and you’ll get the right size. Laptops today are about 2.5 inches, which is the size of a deck of cards and can store up to 160 gigabytes.
  • Hard disks are expensive:
    • Hard disk is made of expensive elements. The heart of a hard disk – the platter where data is stored – is made out of exotic mix of elements including ruthenium and platinum, two of the world’s rarest and most expensive metals. As of 2015, laptop hard drive platters are made from glass while aluminum platters are often found in desktop computers.
    • Earlier, there were other types of magnetic storage disk that were flexible and that could be bent, they named it the ‘Floppy’ Disk. Before hard disks became affordable to the general population, floppy disks were often used to store a computer’s operating system
  • SSD and storage capacity:
    • SSD holds the highest storage capacity, not HDD. Samsung holds the record for the largest hard drive capacity – the 16 TB PM 1633a Solid State Drive. That’s 10 Billion cat photos.
    • Facebook was storing close to 300 Petabytes of data on hard drives in mid of 2014.
  • Hard disks are a ticking time bomb:
    • The clicking sound itself arises from the unexpected movement of the disk’s read-write actuator, often called the ‘Click of Death.’ Geomagnetic storms have been so powerful in some areas that they have actually corrupted hard disks in the past. Despite being developed in the 1950s, the six decade old HDD still uses ‘magnetic storage technology’ and will likely stay for the upcoming decades due to low cost and high capacity.
    • Emerging technologies such as Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) are being developed and will allow HDD makers to create hard drives with up to 100TB capacity by 2025.
  • Hard drive storage capacity:
    • YouTube uses Exabyte of storage – that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 Bytes or 1 Billion Gigabytes or 125,000,000 hard disks (8GB capacity). In 2012, Youtube approximately stored 76 Petabyte of video data annually, accommodating over 3 billion hours of videos watched each month on Youtube.
    • Hard disks are in the millions inside server racks, and are located at server farms worldwide.
  • Disparity in storage capacity:
    • 500Gb hard drive is actually 467GB. Hard drive manufacturers tend to report a 1 Gigabyte as 1000 Megabytes but Windows sees 1 GB as 1,024 Megabytes, hence the disparity. This is because gigabytes have to be calculated in base 2 mathematics – what’s reported as a GB by hard disk manufacturers is properly termed a gigabyte.
    • Windows & Linux reads 476GB while Apple Macs reads 500GB.
  • Ensuring Data Erasure:
    • Deleted data on hard disk are not in fact erased, but only over written. When a file gets deleted, Windows removes the pointer and marks the sectors containing the file’s data as available. From the file system’s point of view, the file is no longer present on your hard disk and the sectors containing its data are considered free space.
    • The best way to erase data is to smash the hard disk completely or to ensure NSA level data erasure, seek assistance from companies selling various data destruction equipment.
  • Hard drives need air:
    • A hard drive’s case is not airtight. Contrary to belief that hard disk should be sealed air tight, air is in fact required for the ‘head’ to function. While the disk’s internal environment is separate from the outside air to keep it clean, air exchange is permitted between the outside and inside of the drive to allow the drive to adjust to changes in air pressure.
    • A “breather” filter is installed to prevent foreign objects from contaminating the drive.
  • Lastly, high altitude can damage your hard disk:
    • The safe operating altitude for a hard disk is usually 10,000 feet. 40,000 feet a normal desktop hard drive will fail to operate. Using laptop on a commercial airliner is safe because the cabin is pressurized.
    • From the movie Star Wards: Rogue One, inside the Scarif facility, the Empire uses hard disk to back up imperial files. Jyn Erso carries what looks like a hard drive, but it appears to have two round metal spools. From a galaxy far far away, it uses magnetic tape data storage.


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