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What to Look for When Expanding Your PC's Storage Space

When you decide to take the plunge and add storage space to your PC, you need to separate the good specifications from the gobbledygook. Today’s PCs use Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics (EIDE, also called PATA) or Serial ATA (SATA) hard drives.

Although a PC can use an internal Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) hard drive, anyone using expensive and complex SCSI hardware is already a PC power user.

Size definitely matters

Virtually all EIDE and SATA drives on the market today are 3-1/2" format, which means that they can fit within a typical floppy drive/hard drive combo bay of your computer’s case. Unfortunately, some mini-tower cases have only one or two of these 3-1/2" bays.

Therefore, if you’re planning to park that 3-1/2" drive within a much larger 5-1/4" bay (the kind used with DVD and Blu-Ray drives), you need a metal framework called a drive cage kit.

In effect, the hard drive is mounted into the drive cage, which in turn is mounted in the PC’s 5-1/4" bay. Most drives don’t come with a drive cage kit (check first, of course), so you need to buy one at your computer shop. (They usually run about $10 US.)

How fast is your access?

When you see a drive’s access (or seek) time listed, that’s the amount of time (in milliseconds; ms) that it takes the drive to read or write data. Naturally, a lower access time is desirable — and usually somewhat more expensive. Drives with access times less than 7 ms are usually at the top of their price range, especially when the drive in question has a higher revolutions per minute (rpm) rating.

What does rpm have to do with hard drives?

In the world of personal computers, just like in the world of the Indy 500, the abbreviation rpm means revolutions per minute. (However, here it is the revolutions that the magnetic disk platter turns inside the drive.) And, with a refreshing constancy, a higher-rpm hard drive means better performance, just like a beefier engine’s rpm means greater speed in auto racing.

Most of today’s EIDE and SATA drives fall into one of three ranges:

  • 5,400 rpm: These drives are standard equipment on most older PCs and can also be found on low-cost Intel Celeron and AMD Sempron computers. As reliable as vanilla ice cream, one of these drives gets the job done — but don’t expect whipped cream and a cherry.

  • 7,200 rpm: This is the standard rpm rating for most consumer hard drives on today’s market — the increased rpm leads to better performance because files load faster and Windows runs faster on a 7,200 rpm drive.

  • 10,000 rpm: Lucky dog! These “sports car” hard drives are found on today’s high-performance PCs. You pay a bit more, but a 10,000 rpm SATA drive can really speed up your disk-intensive applications (and Windows 8 itself).

Select a 7,200 rpm or 10,000 rpm drive when upgrading any PC or buying a new one. The significantly faster read/write performance on one of these drives peps up your entire system.

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