Mass-Storage Structure

Magnetic Disks

Magnetic disks provide the bulk of secondary storage for modern computer systems. Conceptually, disks are relatively simple. Each disk platter has a flat circular shape, like a CD. Common platter diameters range from 1.8 to 3.5 inches. The two surfaces of a platter are covered with a magnetic material. We store information by recording it magnetically on the platters

A read–write head “flies” just above each surface of every platter. The heads are attached to a disk arm that moves all the heads as a unit. The surface of a platter is logically divided into circular tracks, which are subdivided into sectors. The set of tracks that are at one arm position makes up a cylinder. There may be thousands of concentric cylinders in a disk drive, and each track may contain hundreds of sectors. The storage capacity of common disk drives is measured in gigabytes

When the disk is in use, a drive motor spins it at high speed. Most drives rotate 60 to 250 times per second, specified in terms of rotations per minute (RPM). Common drives spin at 5,400, 7,200, 10,000, and 15,000 RPM. Disk speed has two parts. The transfer rate is the rate at which data flow between the drive and the computer. The positioning time, or random-access time, consists of two parts: the time necessary to move the disk arm to the desired cylinder, called the seek time, and the time necessary for the desired sector to rotate to the disk head, called the rotational latency. Typical disks can transfer several megabytes of data per second, and they have seek times and rotational latencies of several milliseconds

Moving-head disk mechanism
Moving-head disk mechanism

Solid-State Disks

SSDs have the same characteristics as traditional hard disks but can be more reliable because they have no moving parts and faster because they have no seek time or latency. In addition, they consume less power. However, they are more expensive per megabyte than traditional hard disks, have less capacity than the larger hard disks, and may have shorter life spans than hard disks, so their uses are somewhat limited. One use for SSDs is in storage arrays, where they hold file-system metadata that require high performance. SSDs are also used in some laptop computers to make them smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient.

Because SSDs can be much faster than magnetic disk drives, standard bus interfaces can cause a major limit on throughput. Some SSDs are designed to connect directly to the system bus (PCI, for example). SSDs are changing other traditional aspects of computer design as well. Some systems use them as a direct replacement for disk drives, while others use them as a new cache tier, moving data between magnetic disks, SSDs, and memory to optimize performance

Magnetic Tapes

Magnetic tape was used as an early secondary-storage medium. Although it is relatively permanent and can hold large quantities of data, its access time is slow compared with that of main memory and magnetic disk. In addition, random access to magnetic tape is about a thousand times slower than random access to magnetic disk, so tapes are not very useful for secondary storage

Tapes are used mainly for backup, for storage of infrequently used information, and as a medium for transferring information from one system to another

A tape is kept in a spool and is wound or rewound past a read–write head. Moving to the correct spot on a tape can take minutes, but once positioned, tape drives can write data at speeds comparable to disk drives. Tape capacities vary greatly, depending on the particular kind of tape drive, with current capacities exceeding several terabytes. Some tapes have built-in compression that can more than double the effective storage. Tapes and their drivers are usually categorized by width, including 4, 8, and 19 millimeters and 1/4 and 1/2 inch. Some are named according to technology, such as LTO-5 and SDLT

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