by Paul Sanders
Your computer's abilities are mostly determined by how much storage space its hard drive has available. Hard drives store the operating systems, settings, and computer programs that your computer uses. To get the most out of your computer, it helps to know the answers to some frequently asked questions about hard drives.
What is a hard drive?
A hard drive is a device that stores program and operating system data on your computer. Most hard drives store data on a disk, which rotates at high speeds, rapidly reading and magnetically writing data. Solid-state drives, or SSDs, use flash memory instead of a hard disc to store data. External hard drives, like USB hard drives or other portable hard drives, usually connect to your computer through a USB or FireWire port. These hard drives are best for backup storage or moving large amounts of files between computers.
Do you only have one per computer?
Most computers start with only one, but you can have one or more high-capacity internal hard drives and add an external hard drive as a backup.
How does hard-drive speed affect computer performance?
Hard drives can only access stored data so quickly. Hard drives often advertise "seek time" and RPMs. Higher RPM hard drives usually feature less storage and quicker seek times. Unless you plan on doing some special tweaking, like partial stroking of a hard drive, installing a hard drive with a higher RPM is the only way to increase your computer performance by reducing the time it takes for your hard drive to retrieve data.
What does "RAID" mean?
RAID is a technology that allows multiple hard drives to be used in an array. Basically, a RAID configuration lets your computer distribute data among multiple hard drives, increasing overall computer performance. If you plan on using multiple hard drives in your computer, learn more about RAID settings before you buy.
Can I replace a hard drive on any computer?
You can replace hard drives on most computer models, but it may not be as simple or as economical for certain laptops and netbook computers, which are harder to work on than desktop computers. Changing or adding a hard drive on a desktop is quick and easy, with few or no tools.