Techman Tim and the Hard Facts About Hard Drives

April 1, 2013

Techman Tim explains what a hard drive really is… and why it is important to know what it is!

Q: What is a hard dive?
A: If we look at the dictionary definition a hard drive is: “a data storage device used for storing and retrieving digital information”.

Well, now we get the basic idea of what a hard drive is supposed to do, but what exactly is a “digital storage device”? Let’s break it down a little further. To do that we need to know what “digital information” is.

I’m going to go ahead and assume you know what information is, so I’m going to be looking at the “digital” part.

Computers have their own language. You didn’t know that did you? But the language I’m talking about isn’t like English or Spanish (my Macbook has a hard time rolling R’s anyway). The language I’m talking about is called “Binary”. Binary is very simple, it consists entirely of 1’s and 0’s and almost every electrical device that you have used today uses Binary.

I know what you’re thinking: “Tim, how could this be? I’m reading this in English right now. Why isn’t my laptop showing me 1’s and 0’s?”

For more information on Binary:


The reason binary is the language of choice (among many other reasons) is because it is easy to store information using this technique. This is where magnets come into play. Remember how I said binary is just 1’s and 0’s? Well as you may know, magnets have North and South, which can be easily translated into “1” (north) or “0” (south).  See where I’m going with this?

Hard drives have 3 main parts: Platter, Actuator arm, and a Sensor (made with a copper coil).

That platter is essentially one big magnet that can change its polarity (most computers contain 1-3 of platters, usually made out of glass).The actuator arm is used to move the sensor over the surface of the platters. Then the copper coil at the end of the arm is used to read and write data.

With all of this combined we have a Hard drive.

Fun Fact – Did you know that the state-of-the-art hard drive in the 1980’s was roughly the size of a refrigerator (550lbs) and had the storage capacity to hold about 300 songs? Today we have the technology to hold 64 times more information on a card the size of a postage stamp (that’s 20,000 songs!).

Can’t get enough?
Click here for more hard drive facts.

Tim Trautmann

Repair Technician - Born in Germany, Tim grew up in a linguistically-rich environment: surrounded daily by French, German & English. His uncle would recount often that he would hear Tim say things like "Look! Le baum!", which translates to "Look! The tree!" in all three languages. At age 4, Tim’s family moved to America for his father’s career. It was his father who piqued Tim’s interest in all things technical & electronic. He attended Indian Hills College and recently graduated with a diploma in Computer Programming. He also wanted us to mention that he loves pizza.

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