Hard Drives — How much is enough?

Since 2005, there has been a boom in large hard drives. Today, you’ll probably have trouble finding a retail computer in the store with less than a 160GB hard drive. I can still remember the world of 102MB hard drives, but those days are gone. Price have dropped dramatically and continue to drop every month. With all the large hard drives on the market, how much is enough?

There are only a select few who really need a large hard drive. I have a 160GB hard drive and have over 70GB of free space. Granted, I have 2 Linux distros and Windows XP installed in different partitions, but my data parition only has about 40GB on it. Both my parents have at most a 40GB drive and 50% free space. My nephew only has a 10GB drive and is constantly removing programs, but all he does is play games and does school stuff.

So who needs those large drives and what are they using them for? Pretty much, only video production and data centers need anything larger than 160GB. Video production can take up a lot of real estate on your hard drive. A 2 hour video final product can have more than 12 hours of footage. That’s 4GB for the DVD image file, and about 2GB per hour of raw footage, multiply that by 4 if HD is involved. That’s 28GB!

So, how much do you really need? Well, if you’re not going to do video production or run a data center, you’ll be fine with 160GB. If you are doing video production, you’ll need a very large drive, probably 250GB or 500GB. Drives are so cheap that you can find a 500GB for less than double the price of the 250GB.

Size is not the only thing that matters with hard drives. The speed of the drive and the speed of the interface factor into the speed of the computer overall. Most drives spin at 7200 RPMs, some are at 10000 RPMs. Also the old interface, IDE, runs slower than the new interface, SATA. The difference between IDE, 0.133Gb/s, and SATA, 1.5Gb/s – 3.0Gb/s, is astronimical. SATA II being the latest and fastest interface, 3Gb/s. Keep that in mind when getting a new computer/hard drive.

Calculating your computer’s actual speed

There’s a huge misconception about computers: The processor’s speed is the speed of the computer. The truth is all the components inside, and outside, the case figures into the overall speed of the computer. This includes the processor (CPU), RAM, hard drive, DVD/CD drive, the motherboard, USB ports, USB devices, the video card, and even the software. We’ll go into each of these in detail to figure out the real speed.

The CPU does play a major role, but can be limited by other components. The main point of interest is having a dual core or quad core processor. Dual core processors are like having two CPUs, but programs don’t run twice as fast. These CPUs are rated to run 70% faster. Be on the lookout for an explanation tomorrow.

RAM, or memory, is the second most important speed factor. The amount depends on what you are doing, no more than 1GB for normal use. RAM has a speed also, and that plays a critical role. Make sure to check the speed when you buy a new computer, because manufacturer’s will use slower RAM, because it’s a few cents cheaper.

Next up is the hard drive and DVD/CD drive. First off, you’ve got RPMs. Most hard drives spin at 7200 RPMs, which is fine. DVD/CD drives calculate speed by a multiplier of a base speed. The interface is also important. IDE, the old standard, transmits data at 133 MB/s. The new standard, SATA, transmits at 375 MB/s. There is a dramatic difference here, but not all motherboards support SATA, so double check.

The motherboard plays a small role because it can limit the interfaces of the CPU, RAM, drives, USB ports, and video card. USB ports, and devices, should be 2.0, not 1.1 or 1.0. SATA support is a plus, but not a must. The video card interface is critical if you are into gaming. PCI Express(PCI-E) is the latest standard here. nVidia has taken this interface a step further with SLI, which requires 2 PCI-E 16x ports.

Video cards are important for gaming, but not much else. The interface, PCI-E or AGP or PCI, plays a large role. Modern video cards have a processor(GPU) and RAM that runs at a particular speed. SLI takes this to the extreme by using 2 PCI-E nVidia video cards. Each draws half of the screen, making it render at close to double the rate.

Keep these things in mind when buying or upgrading your computer.