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What the Heck Is Inside My Computer? – Part 2 – Hard Drive

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Special Note – This is the second of a 5 part series entitled, “What The Heck Is Inside My Computer?” This series is designed to give you an idea of exactly what the major parts of your computer are, what they do, and what they look like. Hey, we’ll even hook some of ’em up for you so you can see how simple do-it-yourself upgrades can be.

To get the most from this series, make sure you watch the included videos. We did this series with the idea that the videos would be the main attraction, so that’s where you’ll find most of the information and demos. OK, ready to go?

What The Heck Is Inside My Computer? – Part 2 – Hard Drive

Ahh, the misunderstood hard drive. So often, it gets mistaken for RAM or simply remains forgotten in that remote little corner of your PC. Some people think it’s a magical device that no one really understands, some pretend to know what it is (those fakers), and the more radical elements of the PC world spend hours flaming each other on message boards over who makes the most reliable unit.

So, let’s clear the air!

On a desktop computer, your hard drive is a component about the size of a typical trashy paperback novel. Inside the drive is a series of platters that store your data. If you dig in with a #2 phillips screwdriver, you’ll also discover a series of magnetic heads that actually write data to the spinning drive. Can’t picture it? Watch the video – we dissected a hard drive for ya!


OK, so you know what it IS, but what does it actually DO? Your hard drive is where all your permanent files live. Stuff like pictures, music, documents, files – even Windows itself lives right there on your hard drive. When you save something, it’s saved to your hard drive. When you reboot your computer and open a file, it came off your hard drive where it was spending its free time as a series of 1s and 0s.

Now, here’s where it gets sticky. Far too many people confuse their computer’s memory (RAM) with their hard drive. However, they are two very different animals.

Your computer’s memory (RAM) is for temporary storage only. Once the computer reboots, everything that was in your RAM is gone like yesterday’s tax dollars. We’ll talk more about that in the next section (the RAM, not the taxes).

Just remember – your hard drive is for permanent storage of your files, RAM isn’t – and you’ll be all set.

Of course, there are different types of hard drives, and even different sizes. Laptops for instance use a 2.5″ drive, whereas your desktop computer typically sports a 3.5″ unit. Generally speaking, the larger physical size, the more data you can cram on the thing.

Finally, there are two major types of connections for hard drives. If you have an older PC, you most likely have an IDE drive, newer PCs will probably have a faster SATA style connection.

If you’d like to see how your drive integrates with the rest of your PC, make sure you watch our video – we show you what the hard drive looks like in a computer, what the guts look like (eewww), and how it plugs into your motherboard.

OK, got it? No more confusing your computer’s memory and hard drive, OK?