Hard Drive Basics: Data in Motion

Hard drive basics: Data in motion

Today’s electronics go with us everywhere and keep us connected.  We are accustomed to using our electronics while moving, but not all devices are designed to be used on the go. Hard drives have moving parts and that is an important point to remember.

As a refresher, let’s simply look at how a hard drive (sometimes called a hard disc) works.  The drive includes a platter to hold the data, a head to read the data and electronics to control the process.  The platter is mirror smooth and stores the magnetized data. If you have never seen the inside of a hard drive, the surface looks like a mirror.  The head is attached to an arm that rides just above the platter surface.  If the head touches the platter, damage and data lose almost always occurs.  The electronics control the storage and retrieval of data.

Servers, workstations and desktops are stationary units.  You should never move them while the unit is on. When the unit is off, the head is “parked” so that it will not accidently touch the platter.  Vibrations can also cause the head to impact the platter, so it is important not to install computers in areas that can shake them.  For instance, don’t locate computers near air conditioner compressors or other motorized equipment.  If you can’t eliminate the vibrations, consider installing a vibration pad.

Notebooks, laptops and netbooks are often used as mobile devices, but are still susceptible to hard drive damage.  Many high-end or hardened mobile computers have motion sensing protection.  This protection will temporarily stop or park the head to prevent damage.  Sophisticated motion protection is available but adds cost. Vibration pads are a lower cost option.  In general, your mobile computer should be used on a stationary surface.

Camcorders and other mobile devices with hard drives have a suspension system and sensors that protect the hard drive in case of sudden acceleration.  This safeguards the data by keeping the head from touching the platter even if the unit is dropped.  This often works very well, but is not an absolute guarantee that the hard drive will not be damaged.

To protect your data, always use care when operating and make sure you have a good backup!

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