Give thanks for the good old hard drive. If there’s been one constant in the modern era of desktop computing – CPUs and motherboards notwithstanding – this is it. Initially unveiled in mainframe computers way back in the 1950s, first appearing in home systems in the early 1970s, and finally replacing removable floppy discs completely as the preferred method of high-volume storage in the mid-1980s, hard drives are a high-tech staple.
But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Ask anyone who’s experienced a hard drive failure, crash, or general implosion, and you’ll get far more curses than raves. Similarly, speak with someone who’s accidentally bumped their hard drive and lost data because of it, and you’ll get an icy stare rather than a satisfied smile. Let’s be honest too – we highly doubt that there’s anybody who really enjoys the whirr and clatter of a traditional hard drive as it goes about its daily routine to boot.
But crack open a hard drive and you might come away wondering how the little gizmos hold together as well as they do. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking the innards look like an old school phonographic turntable. There’s a lot of stuff in there, but the most immediately obvious features are the circular “platters” (upon which data is contained), the “spindle” (around which the platters spin – like a record), and the “actuator arm” (which reads and writes data to the platters and looks for all the world like a turntable tone arm).
Watching an uncovered hard drive in action is both impressive and frightening. The platters in most modern models spin at 7200 revolutions per minute, which by anyone’s standards is crazy fast. But hard drive platter rotations are nothing when compared to the frenetic movements of an actuator arm. It zips back and forth across the platters at speeds that are a mere blur to the human eye. Ultimately, one leaves a hard drive demonstration with a newfound respect for this oft-maligned device.
However, wouldn’t it be great if there were another storage technology that didn’t walk the edge of the durability and performance envelopes each time it operated? Wouldn’t it be great if that technology had no moving parts, made no noise, and could take the occasional hard knock without inching ever closer to an inevitable breakdown? Well, guess what: That technology is already here today. Indeed, it’s been here for a few years already. It’s called “solid state” (yep, a revival of the same term used decades ago to describe tech devices that had evolved from vacuum tubes to transistors), and it finally looks set to make serious inroads into the hard drive market.