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When shopping for a hard drive, you will often see terms such as revolutions per minute (RPM), seek time, and SATA™. These are ratings and technologies that dictate important aspects of the drive, like performance, compatibility, and more. By understanding what these terms mean, you can use them as metrics to compare hard drives.
Cache/Buffer – A small amount of random access memory (RAM) used to hold data that has been recently read or written. Data is stored on the cache or buffer because retrieving data from the cache is quicker than retrieving data from the hard disk. A larger cache allows for more data to be stored for quick access and better hard drive performance.
Some motherboards feature technology that allows you to use a solid state drive as a cache. So instead of the typical 32 to 64 MB cache of a hard drive, you can have a cache that measures in GB. Two such technologies are Intel® Smart Response Technology and Marvell® HyperDuo.
Form Factor – There are two main form factors for internal hard disk drives, 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch. Smaller 2.5 inch hard drives can be used by both laptop and desktop computers, but 3.5 inch hard drives are too large for laptops. If you plan to use a 2.5 inch hard drive or solid state drive with a desktop, you might need a 2.5 inch to 3.5 inch adapter bracket.
Interface/Connection Type – Interface or connection type refers to the type of data connector used to attach the hard drive to the computer.
It has a major impact on drive performance and compatibility.
Mean Time between Failures (MTBF) – An estimate for the reliability of computer hardware based on testing and provided by the manufacturer. It can be used to compare reliability between multiple hard drives.
Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) – It is a method of organizing several hard drives into one logical unit. With a RAID setup, you can choose to either mirror data across all drives to reduce the likelihood of losing data, or separate data across all drives to improve read and write performance.
Spindle Speed – Measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), it is used to gauge overall speed of the drive. A higher RPM allows a drive to read and write data quicker. Two common speeds for desktop and laptop hard drives are 5,400 RPM and 7,200 RPM, while high-end and enterprise hard drives can have speeds of 10,000 RPM or 15,000 RPM.
Seek Time – Defined as the time it takes for a hard drive’s mechanical arm to reach the data’s location on the platter. Measured in milliseconds, it is only one part of the total time it takes to read data.
Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) – It is a feature that allows a hard drive to monitor errors and anticipate failure. The information can be accessed by the motherboard, operating system, and certain applications. Users that want to see their hard drive S.M.A.R.T. report can use monitoring tools to get information such as error rate, throughput performance, average seek time performance, and more.