Sunday, April 3, 2011

You make my drive hard when you allocate my clusters

Hard drives. The filing cabinets of the computer world.   

Without this rectangular block filled with platters, actuator arms and read/write heads you would not be able to permanently store anything to your machine.

I talked about bits, bytes kilobytes and all the other bytes in my first blog. Well, that knowledge will come in handy when discussing hard drives.

To me, the hard drive is not as complicated as other devices such as the CPU or RAM.
First, let's talk about how the data is actually stored. As you can see in the above picture, there are silver disks on the inside of the drive. These disks are called platters. The platters are where the actual data is stored. A platter is made mostly of aluminum but is coated with a polished magnetic oxide (it looks like a shaded mirror).

The magnetic oxide is where the actual data is stored. At the end of the actuator arm is a read/write head.  The read/write heads hover extremely close to the platters (nanometers; we're talking microscopically close).  When data is written, the actuator arm moves the read/write heads outward from the center of the platter while the drive spins. The movement of the actuator arm is the faint clicking noise that you sometimes hear coming from your computer (save a word document and listen for it).  This may sound like a slow process, but the platters actually spin extremely quickly. A hard drive can spin anywhere from 4200 revolutions per minute (RPM) to 15,000 RPM.

I hope you paid attention to my first blog because here is where bits come into play. When data is written, the read/write head converts electricity into a magnetic field which alters the bit region on the platters by changing the flux pattern to [N-S] or north-south.  When data is read the read/write head moves over the bit region and reads the flux pattern. If the head reads [N-S] it returns a bit value of 1; if it reads [S-N] it returns a bit value of 0. 

In a future blog we will discuss sectors, clusters and tracks and how they relate to this blog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Your CPU is NOT your tower...

Ok layman, today is the last day you will refer to the box that houses your motherboard and other components as a "CPU."

CPU stands for central processing unit. Think of your CPU as the brains behind your computer's operation. Without the CPU your computer is a large paperweight. It's much like your own brain. 

What does the CPU do you ask? Like I said before the CPU is the brain of the computer. It's much like your own brain. When you want to do something your brain processes what it needs to and tells the corresponding parts to act in kind. 

The CPU processes operations. Something needs to be called from RAM? The processor gets the ball moving. Need to execute instructions? Call the processor.

How it's done is a bit more confusing. With millions of transistors the Arithmetic Logic Unit (which is part of your CPU) uses logic gates to carry out simple arithmetic.  Logic gates are beyond this blog post but just understand that they use binary to carry out the mathematical operations. These calculations are eventually converted into assembly code which can then perform more complex operations.

Speed is a pretty big deal with processors. I'm sure you've heard the terms megaherz and gigahertz thrown around quite a big. But what exactly does a megahertz or gigahertz mean?

It's actually pretty easy 1 megahertz = 1 million cycles per second.  1 gigahertz = 1 billion cycles per second. Understanding what goes on during those cycles... well... that's for another blog.

Fun fact: The first Intel processor only had 2,300 transistors. Todays processors have over 2 billion!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bits, Bytes, Kilobytes oh my!

Anyone who has ever used a computer has heard the terms, megabyte and gigabyte. And approximately 95% of people do not know what those terms means. And approximately 100% of the statistics used in this blog are fictitious.

To understand gigas, megas and all the other 'as' you need to have an understanding of the smallest unit of information, the bit.

Bit is a contraction of binary digit. Bits are represented by 1s and 0s (or on and off). Without getting into binary just remember the following: there are 8 bits in a byte. I will explain the reasoning behind this in a future blog on binary! 

Now, bytes are the smallest unit of measurement that the operating system (Windows, Mac OS, etc) can acknowledge as a unit of storage. A byte can be a single letter, number or character. If you were to create a text document (using notepad) put only the letter 'a' in it, save it and then check the properties of the document you would see that the document you made is only 1 byte in size.

Next we talk about the kilobyte (KB) which is a little harder concept to grasp. If someone says to you, "Kilobyte means there are 1000 bytes in a kilobyte." Karate chop them in the throat, they're wrong. Remember computers are based on a binary system. Binary is based off of powers of 2, therefore 2 ^ 10 = 1024. Have you ever noticed when you go to the store to buy RAM (Random Access Memory) you can only buy sticks in 256, 512, 1024 Megabyes? It's the same reason, although now people are usually getting  1GB 2GB or 4GB sticks. 

The rest is quite simple, a megabyte (MB) is 1024 kilobytes. A gigabyte (GB) is 1024 megabytes and a terabyte (TB) is 1024 gigabytes.

Fun fact: A terabyte can hold 1,099,511,627,776 characters.