Meet the hard drive

Meet the hard drive

By Richard Heller

Meet the hard drive

One of the most important components of your computer is probably the item that you think the least about: your hard disk drive. This is the device where all your programs and data files are stored, but what actually is it and what should you know about it?

The hard drive contains platters from aluminum or glass that have the surface coated with a magnetic material. The platters are mounted on a spindle. The number of platters determines how much data the drive will be able to hold. This spindle rotates at 5400 RPM or faster. To read or write the data, a head assembly, similar to the tone arm on a phonograph, passes over the spinning platters and either magnetizes the area where the data is to be stored or reads the magnetic pulses stored on the disk. The head assembly does not come into actual contact with the spinning platters; it floats at a distance less than the thickness of a human hair above the surface.

By using different magnetic materials, increasing rotation speed and the number of heads and platters, the hard drive has grown from the 10 Megabyte drive of 20 years ago to the 100 Gigabyte drive of today. The physical size of the drive has gone from 8″ or larger down to 3 1/2″ or smaller, and the price has dropped from over $1000 to $100 to $300 today.

With the drive spinning at such high speeds, whenever your computer is turned, it will eventually fail. Most manufacturers place a three-year warranty on the drive, but depending on temperature and other environmental issues, the drive may fail at any time.

The first sign of drive failure is when you receive the error message “Unable to write to drive C, Data may be lost”. This may be a software glitch, so you can exit Windows and shut the computer down for a few minutes. When you turn the computer back on, it will either startup normally or not start at all. If it starts, you should run Scandisk with the “thorough” option checked. Hopefully, everything will check OK, and you can try to continue without an error.

If the drive is not recognized and will not boot, or you receive a clunk-clunk noise, your hard drive has failed. At this point, the only thing that you can do is to replace the drive. If the drive is still under warranty, they will replace the drive for free. If the drive was sold in a computer system the computer maker will determine whether the drive is under warranty. Even if the drive is covered by the warranty they will only replace the drive, but will not recover your data.

There are companies that will recover the data on a failed hard drive, but the cost is $500 to over $1,000. It is important to backup your computer data on a regular basis, unless you can afford to lose your dara.

Richard Heller is an independent computer specialist who specializes in repairs, installation, upgrades, technical support, Internet sharing, data recovery and diagnostics. If you have any computer or service-related questions, please send them to The Rock River Times or e-mail

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!