Welcome to your final installment on this series of Computer Tips for your Estate Planning Law Practice!
Hard Drives (HD)
A hard drive is a metal case within which one or more discs (platters) spin, while a mechanical head moves over them to retrieve information from the microscopic pits embedded on their surface.
Think of it as the tool case whence you retrieve what you will then lay on the blank plane of memory.
Older hard drives ran at 4200 or 5400rpm, but nowadays the norm is 7200rpm for desktops, and the whole gamut for laptops, according to the substance of your investment.
The correlation between HD and RAM is important, as, by default, when your system runs out of memory it will recur to the so-called virtual memory; that is, it will utilize available hard disk space to store what it can no longer cram in the already-full memory. That wouldn’t be bad, except the mechanical hard drive is considerably slower than the electronic memory. That is why when you open many programs on systems with insufficient RAM your HD starts chugging away and any operation takes that much longer.
Much like a teenaged son’s room, or many bosses’ desks, information is strewn all over a hard drive, with the OS keeping mental track of where everything is. The fuller a hard drive, the more scattered about the data is, the longer it will take to retrieve it. This phenomenon is called fragmentation, and can be obviated with regular maintenance of your HD, specifically running a process of defragmentation. When you defragment the hard drive, the data is moved to contiguous area so that the HD head no longer needs to run all over the place to put it together.
Well-maintained and comparatively emptier drives run faster.
HDs also have some electronic memory, the so called cache. Much like with RAM, the cache is filled to its capacity with needed information, so that the mechanical, and slower, components of the drive become less involved. The cache is usually a few MB large.
You may have noticed hard drives never sport quite the capacity they advertise; where does all that claimed space go? Nowhere, really. It all comes down to the definition of Gigabytes, which HD marketers measure in multiples of 1000, rather than 1024. Thus a 500GB HD will in reality only be 500/1.024=488GB.
On the same, yet unrelated, theme of marketing, your internet connection is measured in Megabits (Mb), rather than Megabytes (MB), yielding to more impressing numbers, since you remember that 1 bit is in actuality only 1/8th of 1 byte.
My suggestion for hard drives is to buy the largest your budget allows, running at no less than 7200rpm and with the largest cache.
Naturally, all the options described must be considered in concert: 24GB of RAM on a 32-bit system would not do much, as a superfast CPU coupled to 256MB of memory would yield only frustration.
Graphic Designer and Internal Technical Support Manager
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys
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