As of 2008, a typical 7200 rpm desktop hard drive has a sustained "disk-to-buffer" data transfer rate of about 70 megabytes per second. This rate depends on the track location, so it will be higher for data on the outer tracks (where there are more data sectors) and lower toward the inner tracks (where there are fewer data sectors); and is generally somewhat higher for 10,000 rpm drives. A current widely used standard for the "buffer-to-computer" interface is 3.0 Gbit/s SATA, which can send about 300 megabyte/s from the buffer to the computer, and thus is still comfortably ahead of today's disk-to-buffer transfer rates. Data transfer rate (read/write) can be measured by writing a large file to disk using special file generator tools, then reading back the file. Transfer rate can be influenced by file system fragmentation and the layout of the files
Seek time ranges from just under 2 ms for high-end server drives, to 15 ms for miniature drives, with the most common desktop type typically being around 9 ms. There has not been any significant improvement in this speed for some years. Some early PC drives used a stepper motor to move the heads, and as a result had access times as slow as 80–120 ms, but this was quickly improved by voice coil type actuation in the late 1980s, reducing access times to around 20 ms.
Power consumption has become increasingly important, not just in mobile devices such as laptops but also in server and desktop markets. Increasing data center machine density has led to problems delivering sufficient power to devices (especially for spin up), and getting rid of the waste heat subsequently produced, as well as environmental and electrical cost concerns (see green computing). Similar issues exist for large companies with thousands of desktop PCs. Smaller form factor drives often use less power than larger drives. One interesting development in this area is actively controlling the seek speed so that the head arrives at its destination only just in time to read the sector, rather than arriving as quickly as possible and then having to wait for the sector to come around (i.e. the rotational latency). Many of the hard drive companies are now producing Green Drives that require much less power and cooling. Many of these 'Green Drives' spin slower (<5,400>
Also in Server and Workstation systems where there might be multiple hard disk drives, there are various ways of controlling when the hard drives spin up (highest power draw).
On SCSI hard disk drives, the SCSI controller can directly control spin up and spin down of the drives.
On Parallel ATA (aka PATA) and SATA hard disk drives, some support Power-up in standby or PUIS. The hard disk drive will not spin up until the controller or system BIOS issues a specific command to do so. This limits the power draw or consumption upon power on.
On newer SATA hard disk drives, there is Staggered Spin Up feature. The hard disk drive will not spin up until the SATA Phy comes ready (communications with the host controller starts).
To further control or reduce power draw and consumption, the hard disk drive can be spun down to reduce its power consumption.
Measured in dBA, audible noise is significant for certain applications, such as PVRs, digital audio recording and quiet computers. Low noise disks typically use fluid bearings, slower rotational speeds (usually 5,400 rpm) and reduce the seek speed under load (AAM) to reduce audible clicks and crunching sounds. Drives in smaller form factors (e.g. 2.5 inch) are often quieter than larger drives.
Shock resistance is especially important for mobile devices. Some laptops now include active hard drive protection that parks the disk heads if the machine is dropped, hopefully before impact, to offer the greatest possible chance of survival in such an event. Maximum shock tolerance to date is 350 Gs for operating and 1000 Gs for non-operating.
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