हिंदी में देखें |

PC Tips

Inside PC HardDisk


Contents :-


Nearly every desktop computer and server in use today contains one or more hard-disk drives. Every mainframe and supercomputer is normally connected to hundreds of them. You can even find VCR-type devices and camcorders that use hard disks instead of tape. These billions of hard disks do one thing well -- they store changing digital information in a relatively permanent form. They give computers the ability to remember things when the power goes out.

Here, we'll take apart a hard disk so that you can see what's inside, and also tell you how they organize the gigabytes of information they hold in files!


Hard Disk Basics

Hard disks were invented in the 1950s. They started as large disks up to 20 inches in diameter holding just a few megabytes. They were originally called "fixed disks" or "Winchesters" (a code name used for a popular IBM product). They later became known as "hard disks" to distinguish them from "floppy disks." Hard disks have a hard platter that holds the magnetic medium, as opposed to the flexible plastic film found in tapes and floppies.
The commercial usage of hard disk drives began in 1956 with the shipment of an IBM 305 RAMAC system including a IBM Model 350 disk storage.

For many years, hard disk drives were large, cumbersome devices, more suited to use in the protected environment of a data center or large office than in a harsh industrial environment (due to their delicacy), or small office or home (due to their size and power consumption). Before the early 1980s, most hard disk drives had 8-inch (actually, 210 - 195 mm) or 14-inch platters, required an equipment rack or a large amount of floor space (especially the large removable-media drives, which were frequently were comparable in size to "washing machines"), and in many cases needed high-amperage and/or three-phase power hookups due to the large motors they used. Because of this, hard disk drives were not commonly used with microcomputers until after 1980, when Seagate Technology introduced the ST-506, the first 5.25-inch hard drive, with a formatted capacity of 5 megabytes.

The capacity of hard drives has grown exponentially over time. With early personal computers, a drive with a 20 megabyte capacity was considered large. As of early 2007, desktop hard disk drives typically have a capacity of 100 to 500 gigabytes, while the largest-capacity drives are 1 terabyte.

At the simplest level, a hard disk is not that different from a cassette tape. Both hard disks and cassette tapes use the same magnetic recording techniques. Hard disks and cassette tapes also share the major benefits of magnetic storage -- the magnetic medium can be easily erased and rewritten, and it will "remember" the magnetic flux patterns stored onto the medium for many years.

Cassette Tape vs. Hard Disk

Let's look at the big differences between cassette tapes and hard disks:

The magnetic recording material on a cassette tape is coated onto a thin plastic strip. In a hard disk, the magnetic recording material is layered onto a high-precision aluminum or glass disk. The hard-disk platter is then polished to mirror-type smoothness.

With a tape, you have to fast-forward or reverse to get to any particular point on the tape. This can take several minutes with a long tape. On a hard disk, you can move to any point on the surface of the disk almost instantly.

In a cassette-tape deck, the read/write head touches the tape directly. In a hard disk, the read/write head "flies" over the disk, never actually touching it.

The tape in a cassette-tape deck moves over the head at about 2 inches (about 5.08 cm) per second. A hard-disk platter can spin underneath its head at speeds up to 3,000 inches per second (about 170 mph or 272 kph)!

The information on a hard disk is stored in extremely small magnetic domains compared to a cassette tape's. The size of these domains is made possible by the precision of the platter and the speed of the medium.

Because of these differences, a modern hard disk is able to store an amazing amount of information in a small space. A hard disk can also access any of its information in a fraction of a second.

Capacity and Performance

A typical desktop machine will have a hard disk with a capacity of between 10 and 40 gigabytes. Data is stored onto the disk in the form of files. A file is simply a named collection of bytes. The bytes might be the ASCII codes for the characters of a text file, or they could be the instructions of a software application for the computer to execute, or they could be the records of a data base, or they could be the pixel colors for a GIF image. No matter what it contains, however, a file is simply a string of bytes. When a program running on the computer requests a file, the hard disk retrieves its bytes and sends them to the CPU one at a time.

There are two ways to measure the performance of a hard disk

Data rate

The data rate is the number of bytes per second that the drive can deliver to the CPU. Rates between 5 and 40 megabytes per second are common.

Seek time

The seek time is the amount of time between when the CPU requests a file and when the first byte of the file is sent to the CPU. Times between 10 and 20 milliseconds are common.

The other important parameter is the capacity of the drive, which is the number of bytes it can hold.

Electronics Board

The best way to understand how a hard disk works is to take a look inside. (Note that OPENING A HARD DISK RUINS IT, so this is not something to try at home unless you have a defunct drive.) Here is a typical hard-disk drive:


It is a sealed aluminum box with controller electronics attached to one side. The electronics control the read/write mechanism and the motor that spins the platters. The electronics also assemble the magnetic domains on the drive into bytes (reading) and turn bytes into magnetic domains (writing). The electronics are all contained on a small board that detaches from the rest of the drive:



Beneath the Board

Underneath the board are the connections for the motor that spins the platters, as well as a highly-filtered vent hole that lets internal and external air pressures equalize:


Removing the cover from the drive reveals an extremely simple but very precise interior:


In this picture you can see :

The Platters

These typically spin at 3,600 or 7,200 rpm when the drive is operating. These platters are manufactured to amazing tolerances and are mirror-smooth .


The Arm

This holds the read/write heads and is controlled by the mechanism in the upper-left corner. The arm is able to move the heads from the hub to the edge of the drive. The arm and its movement mechanism are extremely light and fast. The arm on a typical hard-disk drive can move from hub to edge and back up to 50 times per second -- it is an amazing thing to watch!


Platters and Heads

In order to increase the amount of information the drive can store, most hard disks have multiple platters.

This drive has three platters and six read/write heads:



The mechanism that moves the arms on a hard disk has to be incredibly fast and precise. It can be constructed using a high-speed linear motor.


Many drives use a "voice coil" approach -- the same technique used to move the cone of a speaker on your stereo is used to move the arm.

Storing the Data

Data is stored on the surface of a platter in sectors and tracks.

Tracks are concentric circles, and sectors are pie-shaped wedges on a track, like this:


A typical track is shown in yellow; a typical sector is shown in blue. A sector contains a fixed number of bytes -- for example, 256 or 512. Either at the drive or the operating system level, sectors are often grouped together into clusters.

The process of low-level formatting a drive establishes the tracks and sectors on the platter. The starting and ending points of each sector are written onto the platter. This process prepares the drive to hold blocks of bytes. High-level formatting then writes the file-storage structures, like the file-allocation table, into the sectors. This process prepares the drive to hold files.

What is inside hard disk?

First disks had a simple design. They had one or more rotating platters and a moving arm with read/write heads attached to it - one head on each side of the platter. The arm could move and stop at the certain number of positions. When it stopped each head could read or write data on the underlying track. Every read or write had to be done in blocks of bytes, called sectors. Sectors were usually 512 bytes long and there were fixed number of sectors on each track.


The drives themself didn't have much electronics and had to be controlled by CPU for every single step. First CPU had to issue command to position the arm. Then it had to instruct the drive which head should perform read and from which sector. After that CPU waited until the desired sector was moving under the head and started data transfer. This design was relatively simple and inexpensive. But there were several disadvantages.

First of all, each Input/Output operation involved a lot of CPU attention and, also, the disk surface was used inefficiently. It was convenient for the programmers to have fixed number of sectors on each track, but it was a waste of space, because the longer outer tracks could hold much more data than the shorter inner ones. Later, when digital electronics became cheap, hardware engineers could resolve this problem.

When IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) disks came out they had a little processor on each drive. This helped to free up CPU time by implementing more sophisticated set of commands. The disk space was also used more efficiently. Engineers had placed more sectors on the outer tracks, but still provided software writers with a convenient "cubical" look of the disk by doing internal translation of CHS (cylinders, heads, sectors). For example my old 340M disk has only two platters = 4 heads (sides), but it reports 665 cylinders, 16 heads (sides), and 63 sectors. In reality it, probably, has more then 4*63 sectors on each outer track and a little less than 4*63 on the most inner tracks, but we could never know for sure.

With the IDE disks CPU only has to tell the CHS of the sector that it wants to read and drive's electronics will position the heads and call back the CPU when it is ready to start data transfer.

The newest drives have even simpler interface. Instead of addressing sectors by their CHS (cylinder, head, sector) address they use LBA (Logical Block Addressing) mode. In LBA mode a program has to tell only number of the sector from the beginning of the disk (all sectors on disk are numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, ... ). In addition to that new disks have internal buffers, where they can store many sectors. This can speed up disk access a lot, because they could read data in buffer using all four heads at the same time.

Virtually all modern operating systems use LBA addressing, but the CHS notation is still around. First of all, MS-DOS, which is almost 20 years old, uses only CHS. Also some programs, like Partition Magic, would not work if partitions do not start at the cylinder or side boundary. And finally, it is easier to talk about hundreeds of cylinders than about millions of sectors.

The maximum allowable values for CHS addressing mode are 0..1023, 0..255, 1..63 for cylinders, heads, and sectors respectively. If you multiply these values you will see that the largest hard disk that could be addressed with CHS is 8G. Therefore, if your disk is 12G many programs will see only 8G, because they use CHS.

How disks are partitioned?

All hard disks on all IBM compatible computers have the same way of partitioning. First sector of the disk, called MBR (Master Boot Record), which we will be discussing in details later, contains partition table. This table has four records, each of them can describe one partition.

In the simplest case we would have all disk space assigned to one partition, like in the following example:


Note that MBR occupies one sector at cylinder 0, side 0, sector 1 and partition starts on the cylinder 0, side 1, sector 1. The 62 sector gap between them was left unused, because we want all partitions to start at the cylinder boundary or, at least, on the side boundary. This is not required with LBA, but we need to follow this rule in order to make happy old software (MS-DOS for example).

Another important point that I want to make is that Operating System and File System are different things, which many people use interchangeably. Operating System is a piece of software which controls CPU and lets different application programs to run on the computer and use different system resources. The File System is a way to organize files and directories on the hard disk. The confusion comes because every decent operating system has one or more of its own file systems and they become clousely associated.

In our example all we know is that we have FAT-16 file system. And we have no idea which operating system is installed on it. It could be MS-DOS 6.22, it could be Windows 95 or NT, or it could be all three of them installed in the different directories in the same partition. If we put additional efforts we could even install there Linux, but it is usually better to have different operating systems installed in separate partitions.

Another reason to have multiple partitions is the security against computer crushes. For example, if the system crushes in such a way that FAT tables get corrupted you will lose access to all your files, because FAT table tells where each file is located on the disk. The FAT table is so important that they decided to keep two copies of FAT table at the beginning of the disk. But in case if you have very valuable files, it, might be wise to create second partition (then it will have its own FATs) and keep copies of important files there.

However, do not rush to create the second partition. First of all, experience shows that 99% of errors damage only one copy of FAT and, secondly, for the majority of users it would be sufficient to copy their personal work to the floppy once a week and keep it in the safe place. So, in the case of a crash, they would only have to reformat the disk and reinstall all programs. Now, regardless of the reason, let's see what happens if we have multiple partitions.

In the second example we have two partitions with the FAT-16 file system. For some reason makers of DOS decided that if you want to have second or third FAT partition you have to put them not in MBR but into the Extended DOS partition. Extended partition appears like an ordinary partition in MBR (it occupies space) and inside it has a table similar to partition table in MBR, called EMBR (Extended MBR), which lists partititions enclosed in the extended partition. Inside of extended partition you can have one more FAT partition and the reference to the next extended partition, then another FAT, and so forth, as long as you have drive letters for them (D:, E:, F:, ... ). All those partitions have special name: logical drives, on contrary to the first FAT partition C:, listed in MBR, which is primary partition.


We can only speculate about the reasons for choosing such design, but there are two very obvious ones. First one is that partition table has only four records and you couldn't have more than four partitions if you didn't have extended partitions. To understand the second reason you have to know that, according to Microsoft, you can have only one primary partition on the disk and you cannot boot from the logical drives, which means that you cannot have more than one DOS-like operating system on the computer, which is another way to cut off the competitors. In fact, you can have more than one primary FAT partition and we will show later how to do that.

Also note that FAT tables in the second partition are smaller than in the first one. It obviously happens because the second partition is smaller. The FAT tables has one entry for each cluster in the partition - it contains number of the next cluster in the chain. There is one chain of clusters for each file. Number of the first cluster of the file is stored in the directory entry for that file, along with file size, attributes, and last modification date. Space for the directories other than root is allocated among the data clusters, just as if they were ordinary files. Only root directory has special location.


The name of the file system is FAT-16 because it has FAT (File Allocation Table) and also because each entry in FAT is 16-bits long (2 bytes). This means that FAT-16 partition cannot have more than 65,535 clusters (2^16 = 65,536). Similarly FAT-32 has 32-bit entries and could address up to 2^32 clusters. (Actually they use only 28 bits). Based on that we can calculatete maximum partition sizes for FAT file systems.

Here is the table:

Cluster size File system type
FAT-12 FAT-16 FAT-32
2K 8M 128M 512G
4K 16M 256M 1024G
8K 32M 512M 2048G
16K 64M 1G 2048G
32K 128M 2G 2048G

Partition size Recommended file system / cluster size
1-16M FAT-12 / 4K
16-256M FAT-16 / 4K
256-512M FAT-16 / 8K
512M-1G FAT-16 / 16K or FAT-32 / 4K
1-8G FAT-32 / 4K
8G and up FAT-32 / 8K

The next example shows coexistance of DOS and Linux on the same disk and some more insights on the structure of the extended partition. Beginners can skip it and go to the next section.


First of all, this configuration could be derived from Example 2 if I we shrink both FAT partitions and then install Linux. Also you probably noticed that Linux native file system uses different way of organizing files than does FAT file system. The main structure is called i-node table. There is one i-node allocated for each file. The i-node keeps file size, attributes and file creation, last modification, and last access times. Unlike FAT file system directories have only file names and i-node numbers. The space allocation also differs from FAT, but it is out of the scope of our discussion.

If you study carefully cylinder numbers in the third example you will see that extended partition has three EMBR tables each one is stored at the beginning of the extended partition and keeps a record about FAT (or other) partition and the pointer to the next extended partition. Note that first extended partition encloses all FAT and extended partitions, but all other extended partitions (level 2, 3, ... ) enclose only one data partitions.

And finally I want to say, that even though this was the real partitioning scheme on my hard disk it has some drawbacks. First of all, Linux swap partition is located at the end of the disk, far from the Linux root partition. It turned out that disk heads kept going long way back and forth all the time, decreasing system performance. It is much better to place swap partition as close as possible to the partition where the OS is installed. Also some people think that if they put Windows swap file into the separate partition computer will work faster. This is true only if that partition is located on the separate hard drive, which is faster or as fast as the first one. Placing swap file on the old slow drive will not do any good. It is much better to set in the Control Panels fixed size for the swap file equal to the amount of RAM and place it on C:. Then you can run Norton Speed Disk which will optimize swap file.

.....Previous     Same     Next.....

Tags- Inside PC HardDisk | What is inside a computer hard drive? | Where do I find hard drive info on my computer? | What is hard disk and its types? | Which 500gb hard disk is best for desktop? | What is the difference between RAM and hard drive? | What are two types of hard drives? | What does hard drive do? | How does a hard disk work? | What is floppy disc in computer? | What is a computer hard drive? | What is the RAM in a computer? | How does RAM work on a computer? | What are the components of a hard disk drive? | What is the definition of a hard drive in a computer? | What does a Ram do? | What is the function of a hard drive? | What's an external hard drive? | What is SDD? | What is SSD hard drive? | How do SSD work? | What is hard disk PPT? | What is a ROM in a computer? | What is a hybrid hard drive with SSD? | What do you mean by RAM? | What is optical drive in computer? | What are optical storage devices commonly known as? | What is a USB used for? | How does the flash memory work? | What is Motherboard explain? | What do you mean by flash drive? | What are USB drives used for? | Which type of storage device is USB? | What is a USB port used for? | Why flash drives are so popular? | How are flash drives used? | How do I use a flash drive on my computer? | What does USB mean? | Is flash memory faster than RAM? | Is SSD better than RAM? | Is flash memory better than hard drive? | Is flash memory the same as RAM? | Is flash memory the same as SSD? | Is flash memory read only? | What is difference between flash memory and ROM? | What is ROM in laptop? | What is flash memory examples? | Is eeprom flash memory? | How do I check space on my PC? | Where is the hard drive on the computer? | How do I locate my hard drive?

Home|Indian Doctors|Indian Hospitals|Utility|Career|Electronics|Family|General|Health|PC Tips|Technology|About Us|About Admin|Feedback|Apply For Job Computer Courses|Login| Created by - Er. Sanjay Singh