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What do hard drive-related words like SATA, IDE, and RAID actually mean?

Brainout asked the Hard Drives, NAS Drives, Storage forum to explain some of the words used to describe hard drives and storage.

Technical terms can get overwhelming, especially when they include too many TLAs (three-letter acronyms). Even people who use these terms sometimes need to step back and remember what they're talking about.

So here are some of the most common labels for the technologies used to store data inside your computer:

HDD: Hard disk drive. A magnetic, mechanical device that's been the primary internal storage device for more than a quarter century.

Flash RAM: Silicon chips that, unlike other types of RAM, can hold data without an electric current--a feature that makes them useful for storage. (RAM stands for Random Access Memory.)

SSD: Solid state drive. Flash memory packaged in an HDD-like form factor, to be used in place of a hard drive. SSDs are generally faster than HDDs, use less power, and are less likely to be damaged by a fall or shock. They also cost much more per gigabyte.

Partition: A section of a hard drive (or SSD) that appears to the operating system as a separate, independent drive. People use multiple partitions to run more than one operating system, or to separate programs from data. Most major-name Windows PCs come with a special recovery partition containing the files needed to restore Windows.

SATA: Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. The current standard technology for connecting a hard drive or SSD to the rest of the computer.

IDE: Integrated Drive Electronics. The older standard that SATA replaced.

RAID: Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Two or more drives working together to enhance performance or redundancy. For instance, in a RAID 0, two drives work as one larger and faster drive--faster because twice as many drive heads are reading data simultaneously. In a RAID 2, two drives contain the exact same files, so that if one dies the other continues to work. Other configurations allow both speed and redundancy.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at [email protected], or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.


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