Hard drives are often described as the “brains” of a computer, and for good reason. They can hold vastly immense amounts of information and load up specific bytes in a fraction of a second. Many people trust immensely important files solely to their hard drives, business documents, once in a lifetime pictures, and of course recreational files like movies and games.
The hard drive is easily the most important part of a computer; without them, computers would be useless husks with no function other than as very expensive coasters. The bottom line is that if you’re looking to buy a hard drive, you need to know what to look for and more importantly, why to look for it in order to get the most out of your purchase.
The first thing you’re going to look for is very basic, and that is the connection interface that the drive uses. If you buy a drive with the wrong interface, you’re pretty much out of luck; it’s not going to work with your computer.
If you’re a home user, you’re almost certainly going to be looking for an IDE drive; nearly all home computers use this interface. Some computers use a SCSI drive, which stands for Small Computer Systems Interface. This is generally quite a bit faster than IDE drives, but has some significant drawbacks. SCSI drives are very hard to configure properly, and can have immense difficulty if more than one drive is installed. There is also a third interface, serial ATA, which can be faster but has some of the same problems as SCSI. If you’re not a computer professional, it’s best to stick with IDE drives, since they’re universal, easy to set up, and perfect for home applications.
Most people want a large drive, and this is a valid consideration; the more memory your hard drive has, the larger your capability for storing music, movies, games, etc.
For an internal drive on a home computer, you probably want at least 100 gigabytes, to ensure that you don’t need an upgrade anytime soon; if you’re just using your computer for business and the like, you might want to go smaller, but probably not under 40 gigabytes. It really all depends on what you’re using your computer for. If you’re into movies, music, and games, go big! Buying a large drive now will be much less expensive than buying an additional drive when you run out of room. Current drives max out at around 500 gigabytes; this should be more than enough for even the most memory-taxing uses.
I’m sure you’ve already come to this conclusion on your own, but pricing’s a very critical factor in any hard drive purchase. You don’t want a drive that’s too cheap-after all, this thing’s going to hold your life’s data on it-but you don’t want to get ripped off, either. A good rule of thumb is to look for drives that cost between 50-75 cents per gigabyte. As technology advances, price drops, so if you’re reading this article more than a few months past when it was published, try to look around some reputable stores like Best Buy to get an idea of whether there’s been a noticeable shift.
Make sure the drive you’re buying isn’t second-hand. This isn’t a car, and a used drive is bad news. They’re more likely to fail quickly and are usually out of warranty. Make sure the box hasn’t been opened, and make sure the company you’re buying the drive is well known or has good online reviews from neutral users.
You should also check a drive’s RPM speed, which lets you know how many rotations per minute your drive makes; typical RPMs range from 5400-12000, and usually, you’ll want at least 7200. The faster the drive can spin, the faster it can load information, resulting in better overall performance, so be sure to take speed into consideration when making your decision.
You’ll also want a drive from a major company; generic drives are hit or miss. The main companies that produce quality hard drives are Seagate, Maxtor, Western Digital, and Fujitsu. Generally, all drives from these companies have very high ratings from tech magazines and are designed for good performance and long drive life.
If you take a little care in preparing yourself, you can get a great drive at a great price. Just make sure you know what you’re looking for and what to avoid, and a drive purchase can be one of the easiest computing decisions you’ll have to make.