What to Look For In a Replacement Hard Drive

Your hard drive is fading into the West. You hear all manner of grinding sounds coming from it and it's working slower than an accountant doing an audit. So you grab your wallet and bounce down to the local electronics store to find a replacement.

Whoa! You get inside and are dazzled and dazed by the sheer number of hard disks...you didn't think it would be this difficult. All you want is something affordable and reliable but where to start?

Performance vs. Capacity
When you are out shopping for a new drive these are the two main factors you should take into consideration. Performance is based on a computer's drive controllers (connector types), the rotational speed and access times of the drive itself.

Capacity is basically a question of storage space and whether or not your current system can recognize and handle it or not.

Know your connector type
Modern computers can have several different styles of controller interfaces (connector types) and this will greatly determine what kind of drive you can fix into your machine.

The current standard is the IDE or ATA drive. ATA drives can have ATA/66, ATA/100 or ATA/133 connections. Every ATA slot can operate 2 separate devices (2 hard drives, 1 drive/CD or CD/DVD).

The newest drives have SATA (Serial ATA) connectors but can only run device per connector but at a much faster speed. Speaking of which...

"I feel the need for speed!"
The first thing you should find out when looking at a new hard drive is its rotational speed or RPMs (revolutions per minute). The higher the RPM rating a drive has, the faster it will work when in operation. Speed = better performance for both the Windows operating system and other software programs. The average RPM for a hard drive is either 5400 or 7200.

Seek Times. Occasionally you may hear some big time technical person mention the "seek times" for a drive. Seek times are measured in milliseconds and are basically a gauge of how rapidly a software program can locate the data it requires on a given hard drive.

Access times and seek times for our purposes are the same. Most modern home computers have a seek time of about 8ms. So a new drive with a seek time of 9ms is considered a bit slow.
So when looking at speed find the highest RPM matched with the lowest or average seek time.

Bigger is Better?
The next thing you should look at is a device's size or storage space. You ideally should get as big of a drive as you can afford. Hard drive capacity is measured in "megabytes" (million byte size: very old drives), "gigabytes" (billion byte size: current drives), and the very newest are "terabyte" drives (trillion byte size). Like in a house, you can never have "too much" storage room!

So now you know to get a drive with...
- 7200 RPM
- Seek times of 8ms or lower
- With as many Gigabytes as you can afford
- Check with your PC manufacturer to be sure your new drive can be handled by your old computer