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Author: Cate Greff
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What Is a Computer Hard Drive Used For?

Have you ever turned on your computer only to see a black screen talking about “Imminent hard disk failure”? Maybe you suddenly drop your computer on the floor, then the screen goes black and refuses to turn back on again? If the screen is not the issue, the problem is usually the hard drive. If your hard drive crashes, there is a chance that you will lose your data. If you have been in any of the scenarios mentioned above, you know how frustrating the experience can be. 

The hard disk drive (hard drive) is a non-volatile type of memory hardware that retrieves and stores data on a computer. Different types of hard drives used for storing data files and software exist: hard disk drives (HDD), and solid-state drives (SSD). A hard drive is a secondary type of storage device consisting of one or more platters, which write data using a magnetic head. The internal hard disks use ATA, SATA or SCSI cables to connect to the motherboard. A connection to the PSU (power supply unit) power the internal hard drives. 

What Is a Computer Hard Drive Used For?

In short, the primary function of the hard drive is storage. When information is written in the hard drive, the data remains there even when the computer is switched off. This means that things like the operating system (e.g. Ubuntu, Windows, OS X) and programs (like Word, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader) are stored as information in the disk drive. The computer reads data from the hard drive and writes it to the memory (Random Access Memory) for faster access when it wants to run a program. 

Many new users are guilty of confusing disk drive space with memory (RAM). The use of the RAM in your computer is to hold information for what you are currently working with. However, the RAM has an issue.: It is a volatile form of memory, meaning that when the power is lost, all the stored information is lost. The hard drive will store all your computer files and be able to maintain them until deletion, overwrite or destruction. Although the hard drive is reputed for storing more data than the other existing drives, the age and type of drive can make the size vary. Traditional hard drives come with a storage capacity of several megabytes to several gigabytes. Recent versions have a storage capacity of several hundred gigabytes to several terabytes. This changes every year as new and improved technologies crop up, allowing the storage sizes of hard drives to increase. 

The following components make up a desktop hard drive: the read/write actuator arm, the head actuator, the platter, and the spindle. A circuit board called the disk controller located on the back of the hard drive allows communication between the hard drive and the computer. A computer cannot function properly without a hard drive. 

How is Data Read or Stored?

The disk controller comes in here- It functions as an interpreter of the data sent to the hard drive or read from it. The disk controller informs the hard drive on what to do and how its components should move. The hard drive’s FAT (File Allocation Table) is examined by the operating system to determine available write areas and file locations when it (the operating system) needs to read or write information. Once these areas have been determined, the actuator is instructed by the disk controller to move the read/write arm and align the read/write head. Often, files are scattered throughout the platter. Therefore, the head needs to move to different points to access all the information it needs. 

Information stored on the traditional hard drive is done so magnetically. When the aforementioned steps are completed, the computer will read the magnetic polarities located on the platter if the computer needs to access more information from the hard drive. The sides of the magnetic polarity are 0 and 1 (binary data). Binary data helps the computer to understand the data on the platter. For the computer to be able to write information on the platter, the read/write head needs to align itself to the magnetic polarities and write 1’s and 0’s that can be read later. 

The SSDs

Today, a new alternative for the traditional hard drive has stepped up to replace HDD- the solid-state drive. SSDs and HDDs have similar storage capacity. SSDs do not contain any moving parts. This improves their performance and makes them much less vulnerable to damages that may occur as a result of physical shock. On the other hand, data is stored electronically as opposed to traditional magnetic storage. 

Most SSDs apply the use of flash memory; the same memory used in memory cards for USB flash drives and digital cameras. One major downside commonly associated with the SSD is the fact they are rather expensive, although the prices keep coming down gradually. An SSD can easily become your preferred type of computer hard drive because it is very damage proof and the size is smaller than that of the hard disk drives. However, SSDs are quite expensive. With the ongoing popularization of solid-state drives, the usefulness of hard disks continues to be prolonged in many desktop computers based on the value per dollar offered by hard disk drives over solid-state drives. However, more laptop companies are using solid-state drives over hard disk drives, which in turn have helped to improve the stability and reliability of laptops. 

External Drives

Most hard drives are internal. However, stand-alone devices referred to as external hard drives also exist, which are used to back up computer data and expand the disk space that is available. Often, the external drives are stored in an enclosure that is used to allow the external drive to interface with the computer (usually over eSATA or USB) and to protect the drive. The Drobo is an excellent example of an external device that can support multiple hard drives. 

External hard drives are designed in many sizes and shapes. Some may appear as small as a smartphone while others are large, roughly the size of a book. External hard drives can come in very handy because they are portable and offer more space than a jump drive. 

Should you choose an internal or an external drive? That all depends on your situation. By having an upgraded internal hard drive for your computer, you can have built-in storage for all your files. If you only need portable and on-the-go storage in your hands, an external hard drive will do the trick. 

Hard Disk Drive Troubleshooting

Each time your computer performs any activity that involves reading or writing data to the disk, the hard drive is used repeatedly. It is normal to eventually run into problems with the device. One of the most commonly reported issues is a noisy hard drive. The best first approach is to run a hard drive test. Windows users can use a built-in tool called “chkdsk” that may help identify and/or correct various errors. For Mac users, you will need to hold down the command and r key to enter recovery mode. The disk utility option will be at the bottom of the list of the OS X Utilities window. 


Hard drives can be either internal or external. Learning about how hard drives work can help you select the right drive. The hard drive will help you store information until you decide to rewrite it or until the hard disk is broken. Although SSDs are faster and sturdier, they are more expensive with little rewrite cycles while the HDDs are cheaper but are bigger, slower, and more fragile. 

What Is a Computer Hard Drive Used For?

All your digital content faces the risk of loss when the hard drive of the computer is damaged. Do not confuse disk drive space with RAM. RAM only holds information for what you are currently working with. The hard drive will store all your computer data until you delete, destroy or overwrite them. 

Creator Profile
Cate Greff
Joined: 11/12/2019

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