The hard disk drive may be the most important component of a personal computer system, yet because it is usually out of sight it is often out of mind.
The little black (or silver) box seems pretty simple, but it holds nearly everything dear to the computer owner: all the important business reports and love letters and phone numbers and customer invoices and other data that make the world go round.
When the hard disk stops going round, or loses its memory, the rest of the computer is temporarily incapacitated.
In worst cases, hours, days or even years of work can be lost.
It is important to choose the right size hard disk when selecting a personal computer, and even more important to take care of the drive and its data.
Back up your hard disk.
Hard disks, also known as fixed disks, are sealed inside a simple box. Inside the box a magnetic platter revolves 60 times a second. Data are stored on the platter as microscopic spots, about 20,000 of them per linear inch, that either have, or do not have, a magnetic charge.
A little arm, topped with a gizmo known as a read-write head, moves across the spinning disk and either reads the spots or writes them (alters their charge).
The distance between the read-write head and the platter is about 20 microns, or millionths of a meter. Alfred Glossbrenner and Nick Anis, authors of the excellent "Glossbrenner's Complete Hard Disk Handbook" ($39.95, Osborne-McGraw Hill), compare the read-write head to a jumbo jet flying six inches off the ground at 600 miles an hour.
Smoke particles (about 200 microns) and specks of dust (1,000 microns) would be boulders and trees. That's why hard disks are
sealed. A power dip would be like the jet losing an engine. That's one reason surge suppressors are important.
And back up your hard disk. Just do it.
Some early hard disks were bigger than today's computers and cost as much as $100 per megabyte (million characters) of storage. Today, a hard disk the size of a paperback book can store hundreds of megabytes of data at a cost of a few dollars per megabyte.
For today's notebook computers, hard disks roughly the size of a pack of playing cards can store 40, 60 or even 80 megabytes. Even larger capacities in smaller spaces will emerge in the coming year.
Ten megabytes of hard disk storage used to be considered luxuriant, back when software came on a single floppy diskette. Newer programs sometimes come on stacks of diskettes, bloated by fancy features and the demands of such so-called graphical interfaces as Windows and the Macintosh operating system.
PD If one assumes that graphical interfaces like Windows are the fu
ture, a popular assumption, then a rethinking of hard disk requirements is in order.
But first a reminder: Back up your hard disk.
There are several options for PC owners who are already outgrowing their hard disks.
TH Adding a second (or third) disk is a possibility. The easiest way is
to add a hard disk on a card, such as the Hardcard II from the Plus Development Corp. of Milpitas, Calif.
Another option is to use a program (or hardware attachment) that compresses regular programs into a fraction of their normal space, in effect increasing the capacity of the existing drive.
Hard disks also need care and maintenance. Several utility programs, of which PC Tools, Norton and Spinrite are the most popular, will check the disk for potential problems and do general housekeeping chores that can improve the performance a drive.
But above all, back up your hard disk.