Mechanical Hard Drive: The Predecessor to Modern Digital Storage

Mechanical Hard Drive

Do you have any idea how long the mechanical hard drive has been around? Digital storage is so easy to take for granted. Yet it’s always hanging out in the background of systems like our smartphone, smart televisions and of course, laptops. There are many types of digital storage and today we’re going to be looking into MHDs, SSDs and SSHDs specifically. Why? Because these types of permanent storage are ubiquitous within the laptop landscape. And learning more about them can help you make the right decision about the best storage solution for your new laptop. Let’s get right to it.

What Is a Mechanical Hard Drive?

In simple terms, a hard disk drive (HDD) or mechanical hard drive (MHD) is an electromechanical device that retains your data. Be that an operating system, program files, text folders, photographs, movies, or music. Unlike the RAM of a PC, the information you leave in the HDD doesn’t evaporate when you shut down your device.

There’s a reason why these chunks of data aren’t volatile and stay in their place for frequent usage. The mechanical structure and electronics ‘fix’ binary information onto the HDD, and make it available, as long as you don’t delete it permanently.

Furthermore, a big chunk of the hard drive is taken up by program files, log files, temporary files, and registry files. All created to maintain the smooth running of your software. The hard drive is also where viruses and malware hide!

HDDs weren’t always a part of computers. Actually, they only became integrated into PCs in the early nineties. This is a long history of at least 40 years after the first hard drive was created.

Who Made the First Hard Drive?

Would you be surprised if we told you it was IBM? Maybe not. We’re all used to the huge tech advancements that IBM has made in computers for the past 6 decades. 

Research for a permanent storage medium for data was active throughout the 1940s and 50s. The earliest mention of using a magnetic medium for storage was much earlier though. As far back as 1888 if you can believe that.

The invention of a drum memory, which is the precursor of the HDD, came about in 1932. The fundamental work of that huge new tech is attributed to an Austrian engineer, Gustav Tauschek (1899-1945).

The very first hard drive to be implemented in an actual device was in 1957. It was a part of the IBM 305 RAMAC machine, and it was roughly the size of a fridge.

How Does a Mechanical Hard Drive Work?

Computers speak in a binary lexicon, which is a dual state of being on/off. That’s precisely how all the electronics in any device work. In the case of the HDD, the binary state is created by the presence or absence of a magnetized spot.  

The medium where this magnetization takes place is a stack of discs. Reading or creating magnetized data is done via a special head that detects the binary states with high precision.

The principle is quite simple, but adjusting the rotational speed of discs, and providing sufficient storage space isn’t all that easy. These processes are so complicated that only a bunch of giant corporations like Seagate, Toshiba, and Western digital can manufacture them properly.  

How Can You Tell When an HDD is Ageing?

Hard drives have a shelf life. Just like any other mechanical system, they show signs of wear and tear, and their performance degrades over time. Once this happens, then the hard drive can just stop working one day. The worst part is that the stored data can’t be retrieved when this happens.

Here are some of the signs of a hard drive that’s beginning to show signs of aging:

  • The computer becomes noticeably slow
  • Retrieving any kind of data takes longer than usual
  • There are unusual whirring sounds coming out of the PC
  • The PC occasionally fails to boot
  • There are sudden shutdowns with no apparent reason
  • You get a warning signal that the HDD is faulty as you start up the PC

These are all cautionary signs that you should take seriously. And they’re not that different from the signs that tell you your CPU is dying.

When to Replace a Mechanical Hard Drive

A mechanical hard drive has the nasty habit of closing off all the information stored on it once it fails. That’s why we like to backup anything stored on the HDD routinely.

It’s also wise to replace your HDD after about eight years of moderate usage, or 20,000 hours of on-time. Still, there’s no need to wait for it to take its last breath before you let it retire. This way, you’d be able to transfer all the stored data to a new HDD, including all the installed programs and large media files you’ve been saving.

You might also want to change your hard drive, before its expiration date, if it starts showing any sign of ageing that we discussed above.

Too much heat, poor ventilation, being tilted, or getting a rough bump, are also factors that degrade an HDD. It’s advisable to replace it earlier than usual, when you suspect it’s been suffering from harsh conditions. 

Is There a Better Alternative to a Mechanical Hard Drive?

Yes!

A resounding, yes!

Technology never stops evolving. And thus, it’s not surprising that there’s not one, but two competitors for the old HDD: the Solid State Drive (SSD) and Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD). 

The competitive advantage of these alternatives comes from their extremely high speed compared to mechanical drives. However, they do have some imperfections and wrinkles that need to be ironed out before they completely dominate the digital storage market.

Solid State Hybrid Drives

Before moving into a fully electronic version of any device, there’s usually a phase where semi- automated hybrids are introduced. The goal is always to harness the best of both worlds. But the resulting product often has the defects of its parents as well.

SSHDs have a mechanical part with a high-storage capacity, in addition to a chip of around 16 GB of non-volatile solid-state memory. This storage solution leverages the high storage capacity of an HDD plus the quick response times of an SSD.

The downside is that they’re quite complicated, so the odds of something going wrong within the system are pretty high. Also, they have the same Achilles heel of a laptop with only an HDD: dropping the system still spells total catastrophe. 

Solid State Drives

Systems with only an SSD are much better protected.

These memory vessels don’t contain any mechanics or moving parts at all. Strictly electronics here. That’s why they can push the limits of fast communication with the CPU to the max. They’re also low consumers of power, so if you have a laptop, an SSD won’t gobble up the battery charge the way an HDD does.

Is there a catch to this perfect system? Of course, there is! SSDs still have a limited storage capacity and sell at a much higher price than HDDs. Although that’s becoming less the case as time goes by. As a compromise, plenty of users install one of each.

Tech forecasts are optimistic that this will change in the coming few years though. HDDs are very well passing the torch to these new devices as technology improves.   

WRAPPING UP  

If you’re still using a system with a mechanical hard drive, you’ll notice a huge performance increase by upgrading to an SSD. But what about the price, you ask? It’s super easy to find laptops with an SSD compared to just a few years ago. That’s because the price per gigabyte of storage has dropped significantly since introduction. But whether you stick with an MHD or upgrade to an SSD, you’ll need a good backup plan because anything can happen to any storage drive. Hopefully this information helps shed light on the mechanical hard drive and gives you some insight about the newer types of storage.