How to choose a new hard drive for your computer

September 14th, 2005 by Peter

If you are running out of space on your computer or find that programs load a little slow, or that big files take a long time to open, it may be time for a new hard drive.

Making a more careful decision about the hard drive can mean a much longer working life for the hard drive. Better reliability, allowing the hard drive to run for many years without mechanical failures or the worst of all, losing your precious data to errors on the drive.

Obviously the main thing that people think about when getting a new drive is size. Although a 400GB drive sounds great, there are very few people who actually use this much space. Only if you save DVD movies to your hard drive, or if you do serious amounts of video editing will you need this much space. The smallest size drives available today are about 40GB and will suffice for all your needs. However if you want the latest technologies, bigger sizes are inevitable.

Over the years the speed at which hard drives work has increased. One of the main technologies to improve is the connection between the hard drive and the rest of the computer. It passes the information back and forth from the hard drive, the faster it is the faster information can be passed, and so speeding up the programs you use and the files you use.

There are 2 main varieties for this connection:

The old IDE kind, which comes in 4 flavors: ATA33, ATA66, ATA100 and ATA133, each number corresponding to the transfer rate in MB/s, the bigger the faster. This type is pretty standard. If your computer is older, you may only be able to use this kind, and depending how old will determine which speed.

SATA is a newer kind. It uses a different cable and allows much faster information transfer. The slower kind is 150MB/s and the faster is 300MB/s, so they are much faster than IDE.

A newer technology called Native Command Queuing (NCQ) speeds up how fast things are found and done on the hard drive. Just briefly, it orders the read and write commands given to it in such as way as to get the tasks done quicker and with less delay.

Drives are most often separated by their size and this is a big factor in the pricing of a drive. The smallest drives today are around 40GB, you can get a little smaller, but no point really. The largest of 400GB will be enough for a really long time.

The other thing that affects pricing is the rotation speed, which is the speed at which the big disk spins inside the disk drive. The faster it spins the faster information gets found. Look for rotation speeds of 7200RPM as standard and 10000 for the fast end.

With all of this it may be hard to decide, but here are my suggestions.

For a main drive, which has your Windows and programs on it, go for something faster, but bear in mind that even for me my ATA66 drive is fast enough for my uses. But a faster one will speed up how fast your programs go. It might be a good idea just to go for one big, fast drive.

Brand name drives are often worth getting, as manufacturers like Seagate, Maxtor and Western Digital are well known for long lasting quality products, which will not make any difference in the short term usually, but will pay off with long life and reliability.

If you want or need two drives the second one can sacrifice speed for size, as that’s what’s most often needed for a second drive, which usually stores all your information.

You should now have enough to make a smart choice in your next hard drive purchase. A good one can be kept for a very long time and minimize any hassles in the future.

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