A hard disk drive (often shortened as hard disk, hard drive, or HDD) is a non-volatile storage device that stores digitally encoded data on rapidly rotating platters with magnetic surfaces. Strictly speaking, “drive” refers to a device distinct from its medium, such as a tape drive and its tape, or a floppy disk drive and its floppy disk. Early HDDs had removable media; however, an HDD today is typically a sealed unit (except for a filtered vent hole to equalize air pressure) with fixed media..HDDs (introduced in 1956 as data storage for an IBM accounting computer) were originally developed for use with general purpose computers. During the 1990s, the need for large-scale, reliable storage, independent of a particular device, led to the introduction of embedded systems such as RAIDs, network attached storage (NAS) systems, and storage area network (SAN) systems that provide efficient and reliable access to large volumes of data. In the 21st century, HDD usage expanded into consumer applications such as camcorders, cellphones (e.g. the Nokia N91), digital audio players, digital video players, digital video recorders, personal digital assistants and video game consoles.
HDDs record data by magnetizing ferromagnetic material directionally, to represent either a 0 or a 1 binary digit. They read the data back by detecting the magnetization of the material. A typical HDD design consists of a spindle that holds one or more flat circular disks called platters, onto which the data are recorded. The platters are made from a non-magnetic material, usually aluminum alloy or glass, and are coated with a thin layer of magnetic material, typically 10-20 nm in thickness with an outer layer of carbon for protection. Older disks used iron(III) oxide as the magnetic material, but current disks use a cobalt-based alloy.
A cross section of the magnetic surface in action. In this case the binary data is encoded using frequency modulation.
The platters are spun at very high speeds. Information is written to a platter as it rotates past devices called read-and-write heads that operate very close (tens of nanometers in new drives) over the magnetic surface. The read-and-write head is used to detect and modify the magnetization of the material immediately under it. There is one head for each magnetic platter surface on the spindle, mounted on a common arm. An actuator arm (or access arm) moves the heads on an arc (roughly radially) across the platters as they spin, allowing each head to access almost the entire surface of the platter as it spins. The arm is moved using a voice coil actuator or in some older designs a stepper motor.
The magnetic surface of each platter is conceptually divided into many small sub-micrometre-sized magnetic regions, each of which is used to encode a single binary unit of information. Due to the polycrystalline nature of the magnetic material each of these magnetic regions is composed of a few hundred magnetic grains. Magnetic grains are typically 10 nm in size and each form a single magnetic domain. Each magnetic region in total forms a magnetic dipole which generates a highly localized magnetic field nearby. A write head magnetizes a region by generating a strong local magnetic field. Early HDDs used an electromagnet both to magnetize the region and to then read its magnetic field by using electromagnetic induction. Later versions of inductive heads included metal in Gap (MIG) heads and thin film heads. As data density increased, read heads using magnetoresistance (MR) came into use; the electrical resistance of the head changed according to the strength of the magnetism from the platter. Later development made use of spintronics; in these heads, the magnetoresistive effect was much greater than in earlier types, and was dubbed “giant” magnetoresistance (GMR). In today’s heads, the read and write elements are separate, but in close proximity, on the head portion of an actuator arm. The read element is typically magneto-resistive while the write element is typically thin-film inductive.
HD heads are kept from contacting the platter surface by the air that is extremely close to the platter; that air moves at, or close to, the platter speed. The record and playback head are mounted on a block called a slider, and the surface next to the platter is shaped to keep it just barely out of contact. It’s a type of air bearing.
In modern drives, the small size of the magnetic regions creates the danger that their magnetic state might be lost because of thermal effects. To counter this, the platters are coated with two parallel magnetic layers, separated by a 3-atom-thick layer of the non-magnetic element ruthenium, and the two layers are magnetized in opposite orientation, thus reinforcing each other. Another technology used to overcome thermal effects to allow greater recording densities is perpendicular recording, first shipped in 2005, as of 2007 the technology was used in many HDDs.
The grain boundaries turn out to be very important in HDD design. The reason is that, the grains are very small and close to each other, so the coupling between adjacent grains is very strong. When one grain is magnetized, the adjacent grains tend to be aligned parallel to it or demagnetized. Then both the stability of the data and signal-to-noise ratio will be sabotaged. A clear grain boundary can weaken the coupling of the grains and subsequently increase the signal-to-noise ratio. In longitudinal recording, the single-domain grains have uniaxial anisotropy with easy axes lying in the film plane. The consequence of this arrangement is that adjacent magnets repel each other. Therefore the magnetostatic energy is so large that it is difficult to increase areal density. Perpendicular recording media, on the other hand, has the easy axis of the grains oriented perpendicular to the disk plane. Adjacent magnets attract to each other and magnetostatic energy are much lower. So, much higher areal density can be achieved in perpendicular recording. Another unique feature in perpendicular recording is that a soft magnetic underlayer are incorporated into the recording disk.This underlayer is used to conduct writing magnetic flux so that the writing is more efficient. This will be discussed in writing process. Therefore, a higher anisotropy medium film, such as L10-FePt and rare-earth magnets, can be used.
Modern drives also make extensive use of Error Correcting Codes (ECCs), particularly Reed–Solomon error correction. These techniques store extra bits for each block of data that are determined by mathematical formulas. The extra bits allow many errors to be fixed. While these extra bits take up space on the hard drive, they allow higher recording densities to be employed, resulting in much larger storage capacity for user data.  In 2009, in the newest drives, low-density parity-check codes (LDPC) are supplanting Reed-Solomon. LDPC codes enable performance close to the Shannon Limit and thus allow for the highest storage density available. 
Typical hard drives attempt to “remap” the data in a physical sector that is going bad to a spare physical sector—hopefully while the number of errors in that bad sector is still small enough that the ECC can completely recover the data without loss. The S.M.A.R.T. system counts the total number of errors in the entire hard drive fixed by ECC, and the total number of remappings, in an attempt to predict hard drive failure.
A typical hard drive has two electric motors, one to spin the disks and one to position the read/write head assembly. The disk motor has an external rotor attached to the platters; the stator windings are fixed in place. The actuator has a read-write head under the tip of its very end (near center); a thin printed-circuit cable connects the read-write head to the hub of the actuator. A flexible, somewhat ‘U’-shaped, ribbon cable, seen edge-on below and to the left of the actuator arm in the first image and more clearly in the second, continues the connection from the head to the controller board on the opposite side.
The head support arm is very light, but also rigid; in modern drives, acceleration at the head reaches 250 Gs.
The silver-colored structure at the upper left of the first image is the top plate of the permanent-magnet and moving coil motor that swings the heads to the desired position (it is shown removed in the second image). The plate supports a thin neodymium-iron-boron (NIB) high-flux magnet. Beneath this plate is the moving coil, often referred to as the voice coil by analogy to the coil in loudspeakers, which is attached to the actuator hub, and beneath that is a second NIB magnet, mounted on the bottom plate of the motor (some drives only have one magnet).
The voice coil, itself, is shaped rather like an arrowhead, and made of doubly-coated coppmagnet wire. The inner layer is insulation, and the outer is thermoplastic, which bonds the coil together after it’s wound on a form, making it self-supporting. The portions of the coil along the two sides of the arrowhead (which point to the actuator bearing center) interact with the magnetic field, developing a tangential force that rotates the actuator. Current flowing radially outward along one side of the arrowhead, and radially inward on the other produces the tangential force. (See magnetic field#Force on a charged particle.) If the magnetic field were uniform, each side would generate opposing forces that would cancel each other out. Therefore the surface of the magnet is half N pole, half S pole, with the radial dividing line in the middle, causing the two sides of the coil to see opposite magnetic fields and produce forces that add instead of canceling. Currents along the top and bottom of the coil produce radial forces that do not rotate the head.
 Capacity and access speed
Using rigid disks and sealing the unit allows much tighter tolerances than in a floppy disk drive. Consequently, hard disk drives can store much more data than floppy disk drives and can access and transmit it faster.
- As of April 2009[update], the highest capacity HDDs are 2 TB.
- A typical “desktop HDD” might store between 120 GB and 2 TB although rarely above 500GB of data (based on US market data) rotate at 5,400 to 10,000 rpm and have a media transfer rate of 1 Gbit/s or higher. (1 GB = 109 B; 1 Gbit/s = 109 bit/s)
- The fastest “enterprise” HDDs spin at 10,000 or 15,000 rpm, and can achieve sequential media transfer speeds above 1.6 Gbit/s. and a sustained transfer rate up to 125 MBytes/second. Drives running at 10,000 or 15,000 rpm use smaller platters to mitigate increased power requirements (due to air drag) and therefore generally have lower capacity than the highest capacity desktop drives.
- “Mobile HDDs”, i.e., laptop HDDs, which are physically smaller than their desktop and enterprise counterparts, tend to be slower and have lower capacity. A typical mobile HDD spins at 5,400 rpm, with 7,200 rpm models available for a slight price premium. Because of physically smaller platter(s), mobile HDDs generally have lower capacity than their physically larger counterparts.
The exponential increases in disk space and data access speeds of HDDs have enabled the commercial viability of consumer products that require large storage capacities, such as digital video recorders and digital audio players. In addition, the availability of vast amounts of cheap storage has made viable a variety of web-based services with extraordinary capacity requirements, such as free-of-charge web search, web archiving and video sharing (Google, Internet Archive, YouTube, etc.).
The main way to decrease access time is to increase rotational speed, thus reducing rotational delay, while the main way to increase throughput and storage capacity is to increase areal density. Based on historic trends, analysts predict a future growth in HDD bit density (and therefore capacity) of about 40% per year. Access times have not kept up with throughput increases, which themselves have not kept up with growth in storage capacity.
The first 3.5″ HDD marketed as able to store 1 TB was the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000. It contains five platters at approximately 200 GB each, providing 1 TB (935.5 GiB) of usable space; note the difference between its capacity in decimal units (1 TB = 1012 bytes) and binary units (1 TiB = 1024 GiB = 240 bytes). Hitachi has since been joined by Samsung (Samsung SpinPoint F1, which has 3 × 334 GB platters), Seagate and Western Digital in the 1 TB drive market.
As of December 2008 a single 3.5″ platter is able to hold 500GB worth of data.
Form factor Width Largest capacity Platters (Max) 5.25″ FH 146 mm 47 GB (1998) 14 5.25″ HH 146 mm 19.3 GB (1998) 4 3.5″ 102 mm 2 TB (2009) 5 2.5″ 69.9 mm 1 TB (2009) 3 1.8″ (CE-ATA/ZIF) 54 mm 250 GB (2008) 3 1.3″ 43 mm 40 GB (2007) 1 1″ (CFII/ZIF/IDE-Flex) 42 mm 20 GB (2006) 1 0.85″ 24 mm 8 GB (2004) 1
 Capacity measurements
Raw unformatted capacity of a hard disk drive is usually quoted with SI prefixes (metric system prefixes), incrementing by powers of 1000; today that usually means gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB). This is conventional for data speeds and memory sizes which are not inherently manufactured in power of two sizes, as RAM and Flash memory are. Hard disks by contrast have no inherent binary size as capacity is determined by number of heads, tracks and sectors.
This can cause some confusion because some operating systems may report the formatted capacity of a hard drive using binary prefix units which increment by powers of 1024.
A one terabyte (1 TB) disk drive would be expected to hold around 1 trillion bytes (1,000,000,000,000) or 1000 GB; and indeed most 1 TB hard drives will contain slightly more than this number. However some operating system utilities would report this as around 931 GB or 953,674 MB, whereas the correct units would be 931 GiB or 953,674 MiB. (The actual number for a formatted capacity will be somewhat smaller still, depending on the file system). Following are the correct ways of reporting one Terabyte.
SI prefixes (Hard Drive) equivalent Binary prefixes (OS) equivalent 1 TB (Terabytes) 1 * 10004 B 0.9095 TiB (Tebibytes) 0.9095 * 10244 B 1000 GB (Gigabytes) 1000 * 10003 B 931.3 GiB (Gibibytes) 931.3 * 10243 B 1,000,000 MB (Megabytes) 1,000,000 * 10002 B 953,674.3 MiB (Mebibytes) 953,674.2 * 10242 B 1,000,000,000 KB (Kilobytes) 1,000,000,000 * 1000 B 976,562,500 KiB (Kibibytes) 976,562,500 * 1024 B 1,000,000,000,000 B (bytes) – 1,000,000,000,000 B (bytes) –
The capacity of an HDD can be calculated by multiplying the number of cylinders by the number of heads by the number of sectors by the number of bytes/sector (most commonly 512). Drives with the ATA interface and a capacity of eight gigabytes or more behave as if they were structured into 16383 cylinders, 16 heads, and 63 sectors, for compatibility with older operating systems. Unlike in the 1980s, the cylinder, head, sector (C/H/S) counts reported to the CPU by a modern ATA drive are no longer actual physical parameters since the reported numbers are constrained by historic operating-system interfaces and with zone bit recording the actual number of sectors varies by zone. Disks with SCSI interface address each sector with a unique integer number; the operating system remains ignorant of their head or cylinder count.
The old C/H/S scheme has been replaced by logical block addressing. In some cases, to try to “force-fit” the C/H/S scheme to large-capacity drives, the number of heads was given as 64, although no modern drive has anywhere near 32 platters.
 Formatted disk overhead
For a formatted drive, the operating system’s file system internal usage is another, although minor, reason why a computer hard drive or storage device’s capacity may show its capacity as different from its theoretical capacity. This would include storage for, as examples, a file allocation table (FAT) or inodes, as well as other other operating system data structures. This file system overhead is usually less than 1% on drives larger than 100 MB. For RAID drives, data integrity and fault-tolerance requirements also reduce the realized capacity. For example, a RAID1 drive will be about half the total capacity as a result of data mirroring. For RAID5 drives with x drives you would lose 1/x of your space to parity. RAID drives are multiple drives that appear to be one drive to the user, but provide some kind of fault-tolerance.
A general rule of thumb to quickly convert the manufacturer’s hard disk capacity to the standard Microsoft Windows formatted capacity is 0.93*capacity of HDD from manufacturer for HDDs less than a terabyte and 0.91*capacity of HDD from manufacturer for HDDs equal to or greater than 1 terabyte.
 Form factors
Before the era of PCs and small computers, hard disks were of widely varying dimensions, typically in free standing cabinets the size of washing machines (e.g. DEC RP06 Disk Drive) or designed so that dimensions enabled placement in a 19″ rack (e.g. Diablo Model 31).6
With increasing sales of small computers having built in floppy-disk drives (FDDs), HDDs that would fit to the FDD mountings became desirable, and this led to the evolution of the market towards drives with certain Form factors, initially derived from the sizes of 8″, 5.25″ and 3.5″ floppy disk drives. Smaller sizes than 3.5″ have emerged as popular in the marketplace and/or been decided by various industry groups.
- 8 inch: 9.5 in × 4.624 in × 14.25 in (241.3 mm × 117.5 mm × 362 mm)
In 1979, Shugart Associates‘ SA1000 was the first form factor compatible HDD, having the same dimensions and a compatible interface to the 8″ FDD.
- 5.25 inch: 5.75 in × 1.63 in × 8 in (146.1 mm × 41.4 mm × 203 mm)
This smaller form factor, first used in an HDD by Seagate in 1980, was the same size as full height 5¼-inch diameter FDD, i.e., 3.25 inches high. This is twice as high as “half height” commonly used today; i.e., 1.63 in (41.4 mm). Most desktop models of drives for optical 120 mm disks (DVD, CD) use the half height 5¼″ dimension, but it fell out of fashion for HDDs. The Quantum Bigfoot HDD was the last to use it in the late 1990s, with “low-profile” (≈25 mm) and “ultra-low-profile” (≈20 mm) high versions.
- 3.5 inch: 4 in × 1 in × 5.75 in (101.6 mm × 25.4 mm × 146 mm) = 376.77344 cm³
This smaller form factor, first used in an HDD by Rodime in 1984, was the same size as the “half height” 3½″ FDD, i.e., 1.63 inches high. Today has been largely superseded by 1-inch high “slimline” or “low-profile” versions of this form factor which is used by most desktop HDDs.
- 2.5 inch: 2.75 in × 0.374–0.59 in × 3.945 in (69.85 mm × 9.5–15 mm × 100 mm) = 66.3575 cm³-104.775 cm³
This smaller form factor was introduced by PrairieTek in 1988; there is no corresponding FDD. It is widely used today for hard-disk drives in mobile devices (laptops, music players, etc.) and as of 2008 replacing 3.5 inch enterprise-class drives. It is also used in the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 video game consoles. Today, the dominant height of this form factor is 9.5 mm for laptop drives, but high capacity drives used to have a height of 12.5 mm. Enterprise-class drives can have a height up to 15 mm.
- 1.8 inch: 54 mm × 8 mm × 71 mm = 30.672 cm³
This form factor, originally introduced by Integral Peripherals in 1993, has evolved into the ATA-7 LIF with dimensions as stated. It is increasingly used in digital audio players and subnotebooks. An original variant exists for 2–5 GB sized HDDs that fit directly into a PC card expansion slot. These became popular for their use in iPods and other HDD based MP3 players.
- 1 inch: 42.8 mm × 5 mm × 36.4 mm
This form factor was introduced in 1999 as IBM‘s Microdrive to fit inside a CF Type II slot. Samsung calls the same form factor “1.3 inch” drive in its product literature.
- 0.85 inch: 24 mm × 5 mm × 32 mm
Toshiba announced this form factor in January 2004 for use in mobile phones and similar applications, including SD/MMC slot compatible HDDs optimized for video storage on 4G handsets. Toshiba currently sells a 4 GB (MK4001MTD) and 8 GB (MK8003MTD) version and holds the Guinness World Record for the smallest hard disk drive.
3.5″ and 2.5″ hard disks currently dominate the market.
The inch-based nickname of all these form factors usually do not indicate any actual product dimension (which are specified in millimeters for more recent form factors), but just roughly indicate a size relative to disk diameters, in the interest of historic continuity.
 Other characteristics
 Data transfer rate
As of 2008, a typical 7200rpm desktop hard drive has a sustained “disk-to-buffer” data transfer rate of about 70 megabytes per second. This rate depends on the track location, so it will be highest for data on the outer tracks (where there are more data sectors) and lower toward the inner tracks (where there are fewer data sectors); and is generally somewhat higher for 10,000rpm drives. A current widely-used standard for the “buffer-to-computer” interface is 3.0 Gbit/s SATA, which can send about 300 megabyte/s from the buffer to the computer, and thus is still comfortably ahead of today’s disk-to-buffer transfer rates. Data transfer rate (read/write) can be measured by writing a large file to disk using special file generator tools, then reading back the file. Transfer rate can be influenced by file system fragmentation and the layout of the files.
 Seek time
Seek time currently ranges from just under 2 ms for high-end server drives, to 15 ms for miniature drives, with the most common desktop type typically being around 9 ms. There has not been any significant improvement in this speed for some years. Some early PC drives used a stepper motor to move the heads, and as a result had access times as slow as 80–120 ms, but this was quickly improved by voice coil type actuation in the late 1980s, reducing access times to around 20 ms.