6 Factors that Affect Hard Drive Performance

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If you have a desktop computer or a laptop, then you’ve relied on hard drives for data storage. With your ever-growing requirements for data, you might need the best external hard drives to help with more mobile storage. Whether you’re buying one or you’re having issues with your hard drive’s performance, there may be factors and elements that affect its performance.

How Hard Drives Work

Hard drives utilize magnetic circular disks called platters to store your data. Most hard drives in the consumer market will have up to four platters to write and read your data. These platters are then spun around at speeds up to 15,000 RPM or Revolutions Per Minute — this measures how many times that disc spins in a minute — then a motorized arm inside the hard drive uses a tiny magnet to read and write data.

Here are 6 factors that can affect your hard drive’s performance:

  1. RPM speeds

Hard disk platters spin at rates measured in RPM. Thus, the higher the RPM speed of a hard drive, the faster it will be in reading and writing data. These speeds widely vary from hard drive to hard drive. The most common drives in the market today works from 5,400 to 10,000 RPM, while faster and more advanced hard drives offer up to 15,000 RPM.

Although it’s always best to have the fastest one, it won’t be practical for general office or home use, as drives with higher RPMs will cost more. Here are some estimates on how much external hard drives cost according to their RPM speeds:

  • An external hard drive with 5,400 RPM and 1 terabyte of storage space costs around $50.
  • A 7,200 RPM external hard drive with 1 terabyte of storage space will cost you around $90.
  • A 15,000 RPM external hard drive with 1 terabyte of storage space can go up to $200.
  1. Number and size of platter surfaces

Hard drives store your data on magnetic platter surfaces. Therefore, the number, design, and size of your hard drive’s platters will have a significant impact on overall performance. Although the number of platters will only have subtle effects since having more platters can offer more spin-up speeds and power consumption while giving higher constant transfer rates and better performance positioning.

Nowadays, companies have been manufacturing smaller platters to build more compact hard drives. Smaller platters can mean better power consumption. However, having smaller platters can also have subtle effects on your drive’s performance, such as slower transfer speeds.

  1. Actuator Characteristics

Actuator characteristics are one most vital components in your hard drive’s performance. This part includes the write and read heads, head sliders, head arms, and the actuator itself. It can significantly influence your hard drive seek time as these heads will have to position themselves over to a certain location of your disk’s surface. While most companies build their hard drives with reliable actuators there’s also some other companies that offer multi-actuators for faster drive speeds.

  1. Spindle motor power and speed

These factors affect both the transfer and positioning performance of a hard drive. The power and speed of the spindle motor can greatly influence the drive’s write and read bits to and from the surface of the magnetic platter. This speed is commonly measured in Mbit/sec or Megabit per second — transmission speed of a data transfer. When buying a hard drive, always check it’s rated Mbit/sec speed.

  1. Cache

You can think of cache as a hard drive’s temporary memory as it writes and reads data. Your drive’s Cache memory helps your drive to speed up the writing process by sending signals back to the computer that it already wrote all of the data instead of waiting for it to finish the overall process completely. Your computer then sends more data or moves on to another task, believing that the writing process was completed.

  1. Interface type

There are various types of hard drive interfaces such as the connections and layouts between chips, cables, and controllers on the hard drive. These factors can also influence the hard drive’s performance as different types of interfaces can deliver different performance result. For example, an external hard drive with a USB Type-C interface will have faster transfer speeds when compared to hard drives that use the older USB 3.0 interface.

A USB Type-C hard drive can have up to 140 Mbit/sec transfer speeds, while slower USB 3.0 hard drives can only go up to 90 Mbit/sec.

Closing thoughts


All of these factors can directly influence your system’s speed as your system will always be reliant on your hard drive’s performance. And if you’re buying one, be sure to check the compatibility of the hard drive’s features against your system as more advanced and fully featured hard drives won’t be compatible to older systems.

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IT Project Consultant, Bachelor of Computer Science holder, Microsoft Certified IT Professional. Certified Google Apps Cloud Deployment specialist and Trainer. Passionate on the new trends of Technology. He will always share it with the world.