You pride yourself on your computer literacy. You know to turn off your computer when something happens and turn it on again. You know to update your antivirus software when it expires, and you know how to use a variety of different programs, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Google Chrome, Minecraft and more. You may even know how to set up your own internet.

But how much do you know about the hardware in your computer?

All the parts in your computer contribute to the wonderful functionality of its operating system, but the most important part is the hard drive. Without the hard drive, your computer wouldn’t be able to store any data, so all your projects would have to take place in a single sitting. Imagine writing a book or trying to do data entry for thousands of clients in that space of time.

Read on if you’d like to learn more about this incredibly useful piece of hardware and decide which type is best for your business or personal needs.  

How Does the Hard Drive Work?

Computer manufacturers use two kinds of hard drives:

1. The Rotating Disk

Most computers have a rotating disk as a hard drive. Manufacturers coat this disk with a ferromagnetic film, and a read-write head transforms electrical signals from your processor into a magnetic field on the disk, saving the information. To read the hard drive, the read-write head passes over the disk and transforms the magnetic field back into an electrical signal or current, which your processor translates into the images you see on your screen.

In many ways, this kind of hard drive functions like a CD, DVD, or record disk. As the disk spins, the read-write head moves around and across it, reading and writing different kinds of data. However, most hard drives are much smaller than a CD.

2. The Solid-State Drive

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are the most technologically advanced kind of hard drive. They function more like USB drives than CDs or records, which means they use “flash memory.” SSDs can access data much more quickly than rotating disk hard drives, and they’re more robust and reliable. However, they cost a lot more than traditional hard drives.

However, the type of hard drive doesn’t always guarantee that you get a better product. You have to look at the capacity and performance on the particular hard drive as well.

Capacity

The capacity of the hard drive refers to how much data it can store. If you only need storage for a personal computer with music and pictures, you don’t need a large capacity. However, if you need to store tons of data for a business, you should look for a hard drive with a lot of storage, 3 terabytes or more.

Performance/Speed

SSDs process data much faster than rotating disk hard drives, but speed variations happen within the types as well. Nobody wants a slow hard drive, but you need an especially fast one when you own a business—the faster your computer works, the more efficient you are, and the more money you make.

On most hard drives, you can gauge the speed by revolutions per minute, or RPM. For laptop computers, look for 5700 RPMs or more, and look for 7200 RPMs in desktop computers or servers.

How Do You Choose a Hard Drive?

Unfortunately, the more advanced the hard drive, the higher the cost. Everyone wants to have the most efficient hard drive available, but high-quality equipment costs thousands of dollars.

If you only need a computer for personal projects, you probably need less than a gigabyte of storage on your drive. 5400 RPM will give you more than adequate speed for a laptop, and 7200 RPM will give you plenty of speed for a desktop. You should also probably choose a rotating disk hard drive over an SSD because you don’t need any extra speed—and you don’t need to pay for the fancy technology.

However, if you own a business, you’ll want several gigabytes or terabytes of storage so you can hold all your customers’ and employees’ information. You’ll also need that much space to keep track of your business’s tasks. You’ll also need a faster data retrieval speed to keep up with all the information you need to process—often over 10,000 RPMs.

But before you jump right into buying the fastest hard drive with the biggest storage, consider your needs. Will you get by on just a few gigabytes? Terabyte hard drives cost a lot more than gigabyte ones, and if you can save money, you should. However, buying a hard drive with only a little growing room will shorten the life of your device and lead to data losses later.

If you still don’t know what kind of hard drive suits your personal or commercial needs, ask an expert at your electronics store. He or she will be able to find the best hard drive for you.