Everyone uses computers, but surprisingly few understand their most essential components. Even in the face of constant new development, hard drives remain the overwhelming standard in consumer and business data storage technology. Understanding how hard drives function isn’t just useful to computer enthusiasts and network admins. Such knowledge is helpful to anyone who wants to maintain control over their mission-critical data or recover it after a loss.
What Is a Hard Drive?
Hard drives are devices that work with the other components in your computer or server to facilitate the storage and retrieval of data. While parts like your motherboard, CPU, RAM and USB bus all play important
roles in manipulating information and moving it around, they don’t retain anything permanently.
RAM, flash memory and other forms of data storage represent data in the form of electrical charges, with certain levels of charge designating those 1s and 0s you’ve heard so much about. When these circuits lose power, they also lose whatever information they held. Hard drives, on the other hand, employ magnetic fields to represent information. These fields retain their previous states when they’re not actively being maintained, so hard drives can recall data even after being unused for some time.
What Are the Parts in a Hard Drive?
Hard drives include numerous important parts:
- Magnetic platters that hold binary information,
- A central spindle that lets the platters spin at rapid rates,
- Electromagnets known as read-write heads,
- Read-write arms that move the read-write heads across the platter surfaces,
- Small spindles that permit the motion of the read-write arms,
- Actuators, such as stepper motors or voice coils, that move the read-write arms accurately,
- Flexible connectors that transfer information to and from the read-write heads,
- Bottom-mounted control circuit boards that regulate data transmission, and
- External plug connectors that let users hook their drives up to computers.
How Does a Hard Drive Work?
Hard drives are also known as hard disks because the platters they employ are disc-shaped. Each platter is coated in a special thin film of magnetic material whose field can be flipped when an external magnetic field is applied. This film is further divided into separate segments that each store a single bit of data.
This is similar to what happens when you bring a magnet near a piece of iron. The iron will pick up a slight magnetic orientation as its field is realigned by the magnet’s field. In the case of a hard drive, the read-write head mounted on the moving read-write arm applies the field to write a bit. It can also read the orientation of a previously-written bit’s field to retrieve data.
How does a swiveling arm reach all the areas on a round disc to fill it with information? The platters spin in place at high speeds that are well upwards of 4,500 rotations per minute. This permits the arm’s read and write heads to access different parts of the platter and perform operations extremely rapidly.
Of course, hard drives aren’t just platters, arms, actuators and high-speed motors. All this specialized hardware requires precise control circuitry that not only maintains the operation of the disk but also ensures that data gets transferred to other parts of the computer correctly.
As you might expect, such complex systems also have the potential for numerous kinds of problems. At TTR Data Recovery, we keep up with hard drive technology so that we can help you bounce back from faults no matter which parts of your drives they impact. Learn more by visiting us online or checking out our blog.