Elementary knowledge of hard disk - Physical structure of hard disk

Hard drive consists of platter, control circuit board and interface parts.

A hard disk is a sealed unit containing a number of platters in a stack. Hard disks may be mounted in a horizontal or a vertical position. In this description, the hard drive is mounted horizontally.

Electromagnetic read/write heads are positioned above and below each platter. As the platters spin, the drive heads move in toward the center surface and out toward the edge. In this way, the drive heads can reach the entire surface of each platter.

Making Tracks

On a hard disk, data is stored in thin, concentric bands. A drive head, while in one position can read or write a circular ring, or band called a track. There can be more than a thousand tracks on a 3.5-inch hard disk. Sections within each track are called sectors. A sector is the smallest physical storage unit on a disk, and is almost always 512 bytes (0.5 kB) in size.

The figure below shows a hard disk with two platters.
Figure 3-1 Parts of a Hard Drive

The structure of older hard drives (i.e. prior to Windows 95) will refer to a cylinder/ head/ sector notation. A cylinder is formed while all drive heads are in the same position on the disk. The tracks, stacked on top of each other form a cylinder. This scheme is slowly being eliminated with modern hard drives. All new disks use a translation factor to make their actual hardware layout appear continuous, as this is the way that operating systems from Windows 95 onward like to work.

To the operating system of a computer, tracks are logical rather than physical in structure, and are established when the disk is low-level formatted. Tracks are numbered, starting at 0 (the outermost edge of the disk), and going up to the highest numbered track, typically 1023, (close to the center). Similarly, there are 1,024 cylinders (numbered from 0 to 1023) on a hard disk.

The stack of platters rotate at a constant speed. The drive head, while positioned close to the center of the disk reads from a surface that is passing by more slowly than the surface at the outer edges of the disk. To compensate for this physical difference, tracks near the outside of the disk are less-densely populated with data than the tracks near the center of the disk. The result of the different data density is that the same amount of data can be read over the same period of time, from any drive head position.

The disk space is filled with data according to a standard plan. One side of one platter contains space reserved for hardware track-positioning information and is not available to the operating system. Thus, a disk assembly containing two platters has three sides available for data. Track-positioning data is written to the disk during assembly at the factory. The system disk controller reads this data to place the drive heads in the correct sector position.

Sectors and Clusters

A sector, being the smallest physical storage unit on the disk, is almost always 512 bytes in size because 512 is a power of 2 (2 to the power of 9). The number 2 is used because there are two states in the most basic of computer languages - on and off.
Each disk sector is labelled using the factory track-positioning data. Sector identification data is written to the area immediately before the contents of the sector and identifies the starting address of the sector.