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Hard Drive Glossary

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N
O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Access Time - The amount of time, including seek time, latency and controller time, needed for a storage device to retrieve information.

Actuator - A mechanical assembly that positions the read/write head over the appropriate track.

ATX - An industry-wide specification for a desktop computer's motherboard. ATX improves the motherboard design by taking the small AT motherboard (sometimes known as the "Baby AT" or BAT) that was an earlier industry standard and rotating by 90 degrees the layout of the microprocessor and expansion slots. This allows space for more full-length add-in cards. A double-height aperture is specified for the rear of the chassis, allowing more possible I/O arrangements for a variety of devices such as: TV input and output, LAN connection and so forth. The new layout is also intended to be less costly to manufacture. Fewer cables are needed. The power supply has a side-mounted fan, allowing direct cooling of the processor and cards, making a secondary fan unnecessary.

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Buffer - A temporary data storage area used to make up for a difference in data transfer rates and/or data processing rates between sender and receiver. For example, a printer buffer copies data from the computer and holds it until the printer is ready to print it.

Bus - In a computer or on a network, a bus is a transmission path on which signals are dropped off or picked up at every device attached to the line. Only devices addressed by the signals pay attention to them; the others discard the signals. According to Winn L. Rosch, the term derives from its similarity to autobuses that stop at every town or block to drop off or take on riders. In general, the term is used in two somewhat different contexts:

  1. A bus is a network topology or circuit arrangement in which all devices are attached to a line directly and all signals pass through each of the devices. Each device has a unique identity and can recognize those signals intended for it.
  2. In a computer, a bus is the data path on the computer's motherboard that interconnects the microprocessor with attachments to the motherboard in expansion slots (such as hard disk drives, CD-ROM drives and graphics adapters).



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Capacity - Amount of memory (measured in megabytes or gigabytes) which can be stored in a disc drive or on a tape drive's data cartridge. Usually given as formatted capacity.

Cache - High-speed RAM used as a buffer between the CPU and a hard drive. The cache retains recently accessed information to speed up subsequent accesses to the same data. When data is read from or written to disk, a copy is saved in the cache, along with the associated disk address. The cache monitors the addresses of subsequent read operations to see if the required data is already in the cache. If it is, the drive returns the data immediately. If it is not in the cache, then it is fetched from the disk and saved in the cache.

Controller - See disk controller, interface controller, and disk drive controller.

Cylinder - The cylindrical surface formed by identical track numbers on vertically stacked discs. At any location of the head positioning arm, all tracks under all heads are the cylinder. The cylinder number is one of the three address components required to find a specific address. The other two are head number and sector number.

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Data Transfer Rate - The rate that digital data transfers from one point to another, expressed in bits per second or bytes per second.

Data Transfer Rate to Disk: The internal disk transfer rate in Mbits per second.
Data Transfer Rate from the Buffer to the Host: Based on the transfer of buffered data in MB per second.

Disk Controller - The chip or circuit that controls the transfer of data between the disk and buffer. (See also disk drive controller and interface controller).

Disk Drive Controller - The hard disk drive controller electronics which include the disk controller and the interface controller. (See also disk controller and interface controller.)

DMA (Direct Memory Access) - A capability provided by some computer bus architectures that allows data to be sent directly from an attached device (such as a disk drive) to the memory on the computer's motherboard. The microprocessor is freed from involvement with the data transfer, thus speeding up overall computer operation.

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EIDE (Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics) - The primary interface used by desktop PCs to handle communication between hard drives and the central processing unit. The equivalent interface system in most enterprise systems is SCSI.

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Form Factor - The industry standard that defines the physical and external dimensions of a particular device.

Formatted Capacity - The actual capacity available to store data in a mass storage device. The formatted capacity is the gross capacity minus the capacity taken up by the overhead data required for formatting the media.

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Head - Electromagnetic devices that can write (record), read (playback), or erase data on magnetic media. There are many types: monolithic, composite, thin-film, magnetoresistive (MR) and Giant MR (GMR).

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IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) - A type of drive where the interface controller electronics are incorporated into the design of the hard drive rather than as a separate controller.

Interface - A hardware or software protocol that handles the exchange of data between the device and the computer; the most common ones are AT (also known as IDE) and SCSI.

Interface controller - The chip or circuit that translates computer data and commands into a form suitable for use by the hard drive and controls the transfer of data between the buffer and the host. (See disk controller and disk drive controller.)

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Landing Zone - The heads move to this location on the inner portion of the disk when commanded, or when the power has been turned off. User data is not stored in this area of the disk.

Latency - The period of time that the read/write heads wait for the disk to rotate to the correct position to access the desired data. For a disk rotating at 5200 RPM, the average latency is 5.8 milliseconds; or, the average time delay between the head arriving on track and the data rotating to the head. (Calculated as one-half the revolution period.)

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Motherboard - the physical arrangement in a computer that contains the computer's basic circuitry and components. On the typical motherboard, the circuitry is imprinted or affixed to a firm planar surface and usually manufactured in a single step. The most common motherboard design in desktop computers today is the AT, based on the IBM AT motherboard. A more recent motherboard specification, ATX, improves on the AT design. In both the AT and ATX designs, the computer components included in the motherboard are:

  • The microprocessor
  • (optionally) Co-processors
  • Memory
  • Basic input/output system (BIOS)
  • Expansion slot
  • Interconnecting circuitry

Additional components can be added to a motherboard through its expansion slot. The electronic interface between the motherboard and the smaller boards or cards in the expansion slots is called the bus.


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Platter - An actual metal (or other rigid material) disk that is mounted inside a fixed-disk drive. Many drives consist of multiple platters mounted on the spindle to provide more data storage surfaces. Each platter may use one or both surfaces to store data.

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RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) - Rotational speed of the media (disk), also known as the spindle speed. Hard drives typically spin at one constant speed. The slower the RPM, the higher the mechanical latencies. Disk RPM is a critical component of hard drive performance because it directly affects the rotational latency.

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Sector - A sector is a section of track whose size is determined by formatting. When used as an address component, sector and location refer to the sequence number of the sector around the track. Typically, one sector stores one user record of data. Determining how many sectors per track to use is dependent on the system type, the controller capabilities, and the drive encoding method and interface.

Seek Time - The amount of time it takes the Read/Write heads to travel from their current cylinder location to a new cylinder. This includes head settling time.

Slot - In computers, a slot, or expansion slot, is an engineered technique for adding capability to a computer in the form of connection pinholes (typically, in the range of 16 to 64 closely-spaced holes) and a place to fit an expansion card containing the circuitry that provides some specialized capability, such as video acceleration, sound or disk drive control. Almost all desktop computers come with a set of expansion slots. These help ensure that you'll be able to add new hardware capabilities in the future.

Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) - An interface between a computer and peripheral controllers. Commonly used in enterprise computing and in Apple Macintosh systems. Usually pronounced as "scuzzy." The equivalent interface system in most personal computers is Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics, usually called EIDE.

Spindle Speed - Is measured in (RPMs) (revolutions per minute) With higher RPMs, a specific point on the disc platter is under the read/write heads more often, allowing faster data access times.

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Track-to-track Seek Time - The time that elapses when the read/write heads move from one track to an adjacent track.

Transfer Rate - The rate at which the hard drive sends and receives data from the controller. Processing, head switches and seeks are all figured into the transfer rate in order to accurately portray drive performance. The burst mode transfer rate is separate from transfer rate, as it refers only to the transfer of data into RAM.

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How do I get additional memory?

The following will help allow your computer to load programs into memory more efficiently allowing you to have more memory for MS-DOS programs / games.

Ensure you have the following lines at the beginning of your config.sys file.


By placing the DOS=HIGH,UMB on the second line this can in some cases save memory because it is loading DOS into upper memory before loading the memory manager. Additionally the first and third line cannot be loaded into high memory because these lines are the memory managers.

Load all your devices in your config.sys and autoexec.bat into high memory.

How can I comment lines in batch or system files?
Remarking lines within the autoexec.bat or the config.sys allows you to temporarily or permanently prevent a line from loading each time you boot the computer. The method most commonly used is placing "REM " in front of the file you wish to skip.


If you are encountering issues with a line in the autoexec.bat it is highly recommended that you remark the line instead of removing it. This will prevent issues from arising if the line needs to be placed back into the appropriate file.

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