HARD DISK DRIVES VERSUS SOLID STATE DRIVES

Hard drives aren’t going anywhere

Though hard drives have grown smaller in size, larger in capacity, cheaper in price and faster in speed, the technology behind them has remained fundamentally the same for around fifty years. The manner of transmitting data between the hard drive and motherboard has evolved, but whether it’s Serial or SATA cables, there’s still a motherboard on one end and a system of spinning disk platters on the other.

Those disks just carry on spinning, and are likely to do so for a while, even as the data storage requirements of the world increases and people speak of new data storage technologies on the horizon. Cloud storage is often mentioned as a successor to hard drive technology, but, believe it or not, all that data going to the cloud still has to be stored somewhere. It’s not just floating around in the sky.

Then there are mobile devices, with flash memory being the storage medium of choice. The storage capacity of mobile devices is limited and every piece of data stored in the memory of a mobile device is likely to be backed up multiple times on hard disks at home or in the cloud.

 

What about solid state drives?

Touted as a potential usurper of the hard disk drive, solid state drives store data electronically rather than magnetically, using flash memory chips rather than spinning disk platters. With read and write times that can reach as high as 550MBps versus the 200MB of your fastest hard disk drives,solid state drives boast superior speeds that enable them to boot Windows 7 about 30 seconds faster than hard drives.

They make a lot less noise, too. Solid state drives contain no moving parts, which means that there are no parts to break in the event of physical trauma.

If they’re so fast and durable, surely it’s time they replaced the 50-year-old technology of the hard disk drive? Well, solid state drives have been around for about 30 years, yet hard disk drives remain the data storage medium of choice for most consumers.

One reason is that being faster and more durable doesn’t make them immune to drive failure. In fact, drive failure is included on the list of things to which solid state drives are more vulnerable than hard disk drives. The latter will usually give some warnings signs first.

The major factor is expense, with solid state drives costing about $0.70 to $1 per gigabyte of data versus a few cents per gigabyte for hard disk drives. In 2011, consumers purchased about 350 billion gigabytes worth of hard drive capacity, providing the industry with $33 billion worth in revenue. The same amount of gigabytes in solid state drive capacity would have come to $250 billion.

The first gigabyte hard drive in the 80s cost between $81,000 and $142,400, surely the price of solid state drives will also drop over time?

Solid state drive prices have indeed dropped over time and may drop further, but the price drops are volatile, and dependent on the availability of the lithography used to manufacture them. Either way, they’re not likely to drop at a faster rate than hard disk drives, so the price gap will remain wide.

Who knows what the future will bring, but for now, hard disk drives look likely to remain the most prevalent data storage medium for a while yet.

A LOOK AT DATA STORAGE

We live in a data-centric world; we’re all saving photos, music, videos, contact details, and personal and business documents on storage devices that range from itty bitty flash drives to mega terabyte hard drives. Even the cloud comes into the picture.

For most of us, a USB will fulfil our personal data storage needs. But it’s not as simple as you might think. If you really want to get into it, there are three types of USBs to choose from.

 

1. Single layer cell (SLC)

SLC flash drives save one bit of data per cell. This results in greater cell endurance, faster transfer speeds and lower power consumption than other flash drives. A drawback is that SLC flash drives are more expensive than other types.

2. Multi-layer cell (MLC)

With MLC flash drives two bits of data is stored in a single cell, meaning that it can store double the amount of data as an SLC drive. The drawbacks are that the cells aren’t as durable as SLC cells, the transfer speeds are slower and they are more power hungry. However, they are cheaper than SLCs.

3. Triple layer cell (TLC)

TLC flash drives store three bits of data on a single cell. This means that their endurance is lower and their transfer speeds are even slower than that of MLC drives. There is also a greater chance of them failing than both the SLC and MLC flash drives. As a result TLCs are the cheapest type of flash drives available.

What about those of us who need lots of storage, like 10 terabytes or more? Well, then RAID is the way to go.

What is RAID?

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Very basically, what it does is take a number of hard drives and connect them in such a way that they act as a single drive, so that there are extra copies of data in case some is lost. The three main types of RAIDare RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID 5.

 

RAID 0

RAID 0 should not be used for any critical system as a fraction of the file is written over multiple disks, which means that if one drive fails the whole array is lost. Benefits are faster read/write times.

RAID 1

RAID 1 can be used for a critical system because if one disk fails, you have another to replace it with. This is because it works by mirroring data on redundant disks. As a result, you don’t get as much storage space as you would with RAID 0, but at least you have peace of mind.

RAID 5

In the case of RAID 5, if one drive fails the rest do not, although they run at a slowed rate. Also, if one drive fails you can use the information on the active drives to recover the data you lost.

It must be noted that RAID Recovery is considered the most complex form of data recovery, which is why you should only ever take your RAID problems to fully qualified and reputable data recovery experts. Take the time to investigate the companies operating in your area. Don’t be put off by small-scale operations, but don’t dismiss international specialists that have branches as far afield as Brisbane, Italy and Los Angeles, either.

 

PROS AND CONS OF EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES

The rising demand for hard drive space

In 1980, the first gigabyte hard drive arrived. It was almost as big as a fridge, but it so many megabytes; more megabytes then anyone could ever need, right?

As time went by, people realized that there is no such thing as enough megabytes. Then they realized that you could never have enough gigabytes. And finally, it got to the point where the mythical terabyte became the standard unit of storage.

That’s the way it is with hard drive space. What’s considered too much now will be the standard in every computer in a few years, and scoffed at a few years later.

Multimedia and social media, all the video and image files people store on their computers and upload to social media sites, all contributing to the rising demand for data storage. Facebook alone processes about 500 Terabytes worth of data per day, while 72 hours’ worth of video footage is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

 

External hard drives: More portability for less reliability?

The space requirements of data are higher and so is its value, whether it is photos of a fondly remembered trip or important business data. The prevalence of viruses and hacking means people not only need additional storage space, but a means to backup all this information and protect it from threats. This is why external hard drives have become one of the fastest-growing data storage mediums.

They provide additional storage space that can be installed without having to open the computer case. It’s just a simple matter of plugging it in, usually via USB cable, and hundreds of additional gigabytes are yours to deploy. When it comes to protecting that data from online threats, it’s just a simple matter of unplugging the same cable, unlike internal hard drives which are accessible for as long as the computer is on.

Furthermore, external hard drives provide extra storage that is also portable. You may not be able to carry them around in your pocket as easily as USBs, but the far superior storage capacity more than makes up for the inferior portability.

For all their benefits, external hard drives are not the most reliable of devices. Internal hard drives are quite prone to failure as is, and external drives don’t even have the benefit of being close to the computer fans, which means that there is no cooling mechanism to protect them from excess heat.

What’s more, being positioned outside the case means they’re more exposed to the elements, and to the threat of physical trauma, especially when cables are unwisely left to trail in places where they can easily be caught on someone’s foot.

Data should only be considered “backed up” if it’s contained on an internal drive as well as an external drive. On the plus side, the portability of external hard drives makes it easier to transport them to a data recovery center should they fail.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE

We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to external data devices; USB flash drives are a dime a dozen and external hard drives are as common as muck. USB drives are fantastic because they’re uber portable. They’re getting bigger data storage-wise (Data Traveler HyperX Predator will shortly release a 1TB USB 3.0), with sizes hovering around 64GB. But they’re small enough for you to slip in your pocket. You can take thousands of holiday photos with you when you visit a friend, and you can swop massive files at the drop of a hat.

External hard drives are not as conveniently small, but they’re not exactly physical cumbersome either. They’ve shrunk right down to something that can fit in a handbag, and their storage capabilities are also going through the roof (1TB is almost the norm).

Drowning in choice

As more manufacturers enter the market and as more devices are released, it becomes more difficult to decide which one to buy.

Here are four tips to help make the decision easier:

  • Decide if you want your external hard drive to operate with or without a power adapter. You’ll find that 2.5 inch drives are more common and highly recommended because they don’t require a power adapter and they provide more than enough storage space than an average user will need – 250 – 750GB (Joel Santo Domingo – PC Mag).
  • Decide if you want a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs are more common and easily affordable. SSDs are relatively rare, mostly because they’re still quite expensive. SSDs are, however, much faster than HDDs and are more resilient because they don’t have any moving parts.
  • Natalia Real (Digital Trends) says that you need to consider your security needs. Will you use your device to store sensitive information? The definition of sensitive depends on you. For example, a businessman might carry critical, confidential business data; while a doting dad might store a photographic record of his kids’ lives, from the womb to marriage. Whatever your definition, you should consider drives that have built-in encryption.
  • Take note of the warranty. PC World says that two-year warranties are increasingly common, but that many manufacturers are now starting to offer five-year warranties. If you’re only looking at a one-year warranty, maybe it’s time to expand your search.

External data storage devices are increasingly common, not only as personal data storage devices, but also as backup devices for business data. Given the range of external hard drives available, it’s important that you do some research into which one will meet your specific needs. And, then shop around for the best deals.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have experienced data loss on an external hard disk drive, please see our page on hard drive recovery.

Should You Format Your Hard Drive?

The short answer is no; at least you shouldn’t format it yourself. Formatting your hard drive erases all of your data, and unless you do it properly the chances are good that you will lose something essential. There are instances when your hard drive has to be formatted, but in that case you should always take it to a professional.

Let’s look a little more closely at formatting, why it might be necessary, and what it does.

When is it necessary?

There are several scenarios that require formatting.

1)     You want to increase your storage space by adding a new hard disk drive.

2)     You’ve accumulated so much junk that your computer operates at slower-than-snail-speed.

3)     You’ve contracted a serious infection that is resistant to everything you’ve thrown at it.

4)     Your operating system is on the fritz (it refuses to boot, or boots normally and then crashes when the mood takes it).

5)     You’re getting registry errors.

 

What does formatting do?

At a basic level, it wipes your computer clean and gives it a fresh start. This means that it deletes all of your files, everything from your operating system and your music playlists to your bookmarks and history. And this means that you need to make backups of everything – everything.

Now, it is possible for professionals to recover data from a formatted hard drive, but why would you want to put yourself under that kind of stress? It’s far better to go to a professional company and get it done properly in the first place.

If you absolutely have to do it yourself

If you fancy your computer skills you can try to format your computer yourself, but make sure that you take the following precautions:

  • Make a written list of all your files and all the software installed on your PC.
  • Backup all of your files and check the completed backups against your list.
  • Make a copy of your drivers.
  • Ensure that you have all the necessary CDs and licence keys. These are the disks that will reinstall your operating system and your drivers and assorted software, and ensure that you can still connect your printer and scanner and fax to your PC.
  • As soon as you have reformatted your drive, reinstall your operating system and follow it by reinstalling antivirus software. You don’t want to leave your good-as-new PC vulnerable for a second. Then you should get online and update your antivirus software and security patches.

 

Should formatting be a regular occurrence?

Not necessarily. Some people, usually IT uber-professionals (power-users) who are obsessed with performance, swear by formatting their PCs two, three or even four times a year. They might not do a complete format every time, but they like to keep their systems clean, uncluttered, and fast.

Regular Joes, however, tend not to download every version of every software package available, and they tend not to add hard disk drives to increase storage capacity every couple of months. So they might not need to format their drives until things start to go wrong.

If you’re not sure whether your hard drive needs to be formatted, or you want to increase your storage space but don’t trust your computer skills, always consult a professional.

Issues with Seagate 7200.11 hard disk drives

SEAGATES FLAGSHIP desktop Barracuda 7200.11 drives, in particular the 1TB (ST31000340AS) units, are failing at an alarming rate and prompting outrage from their faithful customers.

A new self-bricking feature apparently resides in faulty firmware microcode which will rear its ugly head sometime at boot detection. Essentially the drive will be working as normal for a while, then – out of the blue – it’ll brick itself to death. The next time you reboot your computer the drive will simply lock itself up as a failsafe and won’t be detected by the BIOS. In other words, there’s power, spin-up, but no detection to enable booting.

Naturally the Seagate forums (as well as many other customer-driven forums, like retailers and hardware sites) are flooded with testimonies of customers’ experiences with Seagate support. These are helpful enough to ship you a new drive, as per the warranty, but invariably the drives end up bricking as well.

Data Detect are reporting that there’s a very high rate of failure on these drives. One user in particular reports having set up a 6 TB drive array and over the course of 1 month having half the drives fail on him. No official stats are available, but at least one RMA middleman has told us there’s about 30-40% failure rates.

According to data recovery experts Seagate has diagnosed the problem and issued a new firmware to address it. However, drives that have already been affected can’t have the firmware applied to them due to their locked-down status.

Users are extra-peeved because beyond the usual RMA drill, if they want to recover the data on those drives they can get stuck with a hefty data recovery bill to pay.

Drive origin and firmware seem to be Thailand and SD15, but at least one user reports having had identical problems with a unit from the Wuxi(ng) fab and the SD35 firmware.

Of course clients have mailed and called Seagate about this, but it seems their execs are too busy to pick up the phone or write back. We’ll just refer them to that longstanding truth that good names are built over years and shattered in seconds. Data Detect is able to recover from these problems and has been doing so since the problems arose. In conjunction with its partners Data Detect have a cost effective solution to retrieve its clients data in quick time.

Contact Data Detect in Sydney Australia on 02 99294822 for further details