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Hard Disk Drive Case

Study
EG21002
Christopher Tayler
11/1/2008
Contents
Abstract....................................................................................... ..........................3
Introduction...........................................................................................................3
Physical Construction......................................................................................... ....3
1.1 Platters.............................................................................. ...........................5
1.2 Electronics/Logic Board.................................................................................5
1.3 The Read/Write Head Assembly...................................................................6
1.3.1 The Actuator Assembly...........................................................................6
1.3.2 The Head................................................................................................7
1.4 The Sealed Casing........................................................................................7
The Read/Write Process.........................................................................................7
Conclusion................................................................................. ............................8

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Abstract
This case study focuses on the operation and internal workings of the supplied
hard drive (a Fujitsu MPC3043AT 4.32GB).

Introduction
An essential part of most computers now is the hard disk drive. This device is
used to store all the programmes, user data and most importantly the Operating
system.

The basic operation of a hard disk is similar to that of a floppy disk drive, except
the main storage medium is solid instead, as the name would suggest. The HDD
(hard disk drive) uses a magnetic read/write process (see section 4) that
supports higher read/write speeds than a floppy drive.

Physical Construction
The hard drive consists of four main components:

 The read/write head assembly

 The platters (magnetic disk assembly)

 The electronics controlling the HDD

 The sealed case.

Diagram 3-1 below illustrates the layout of a typical HDD.

Figure 3.3.1-1 Internals of a typical HDD

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1.1 Platters
The platters are responsible for the actual storage of data. In the case of the
Fujitsu MPC3043AT, 4.32GB of data is stored on 2 double sided aluminium disks,
rotating at 5400rpm1 which are coated by a thin layer of magnetisable material
(this allows the actual storage of data). If one imagines the platter being split
into tracks (as in the tracks on a CD) and then these tracks being sub-divided
again into

Figure 3.3.1-2 Graphical representation of separation of the HDD


platters
segments. Diagram 3-2 shows these divisions.

1.2 Electronics/Logic Board


There are many electronic components that control the operation of the HDD.
Normally, and in the case of the Fujitsu MPC3043AT, the main control PCB is

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The faster the RPM the quicker the read/write speeds.
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located on the bottom side of the device. The PCB contains all of the devices
that are used to interface with the motherboard and ultimately the user of the
computer device.

Integrated into the PCB are the connecters and jumpers. The connecters allow
the HDD to communicate with motherboard through the use of ribbon cable (a
high speed parallel connection) and attain power form the main power supply
unit. The jumpers allow the HDD controller to distinguish between the different
drives and what its role is. There are three possible configurations for IDE
drives; single-drive (master), master (dual-drive) and slave (dual-drive). This is
necessary as each IDE device has its own controller, so one drive has to be a
master and the other a slave if there are two devices on one IDE channel2.

The PCB on the Fujitsu MPC3043AT also includes Self-Monitoring Analysis and
Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) which gives the user advanced warning of
drive irregularities that could affect data integrity. Where vast amounts of HDD
are used (e.g. data storage servers) this technology helps to eliminate unwanted
data loss.

1.3 The Read/Write Head Assembly


Probably the most important part of HDD, the read/write head is responsible from
extracting and writing all information to the platters of the drive. Further
information on this read/write process can be found in section 4.

The assembly can be split into two main components. The actuator assembly
and the head.

1.3.1 The Actuator Assembly3


The head actuator is the mechanical system that moves the heads across the
platter surface. There are two types of head actuator, stepper motor actuator
and voice coil actuators. The stepper motor actuator is an older design with
inherent problems.

A stepper motor drive has higher access times, is more temperature sensitive
and requires regular maintenance. Voice coil actuators are more reliable, faster
and do not need to be maintained. A voice coil actuator works by pure
electromagnetic force. It is similar to a normal audio speaker, which uses a
stationary magnet surrounded by a voice coil connected to the speaker’s paper
cone. Energising the coil causes the coil to move relative to the stationary
magnet, which produces sound from the speaker cone.

Due to the mechanics of stepper motors, a stepper motor system has “detent
positions” where the motor naturally stops. This means that the head moves
across the surface in a series of jerky movements. A voice coil has no such
problems and the mechanism can slide the heads in and out smoothly to any
given position. Also the stepper system is blind. The system does not know

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Taken from “Case Study: Hard Disk Drive”, 2007, K. Dastoori.
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Taken from “Case Study: Hard Disk Drive”, 2007, K. Dastoori.
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exactly where the head is as there is no feedback, so if the head has been
wrongly positioned then the wrong data will be read. The voice coil system uses
a feedback signal to accurately determine the position of the head and can
adjust the position if necessary.

It can be seen from this that the voice coil is far superior to the stepper motor
drive. The Fujitsu MPC3043AT features a voice call actuator for this exact reason.

1.3.2 The Head


The read write head can be best described with the help of a diagram.

The picture shows the head which hovers about 30nm above the surface of the
platters during operation. In the centre the copper write transducer can be seen,
the operation of which is discussed in section 4.

1.4 The Sealed Casing


The case of the HDD is sealed to prevent particles of dust or dirt to enter, which
would result in a “head crash” (where the read/write head hits the surface of the
platter causing data loss) or some other malfunction.

Nearly all hard disks have two air filters, a recirculating filter and a barometric,
or breather, filter. These filters are permanently sealed inside the drive and are
never changed throughout the life of the drive. Hard disks do not circulate air
from inside to outside, or vice versa. The recirculating filter is designed to filter
small particles that are scraped from the surface of the disk when starting and
stopping.

The HDA is sealed, but is not airtight. The HDA is vented through a barometric
or breather filter element that allows for pressure equalisation between the
inside and outside of the drive.

The Read/Write Process

As we all know, computers operate in Binary (base 2) and therefore this data is
stored in binary form also.

Older, conventional hard disk heads work by making use of the two main
principles of electromagnetic force. The first is that applying an electrical current
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through a coil produces a magnetic field; this is used when writing to the disk.
The direction of the magnetic field produced depends on the direction that the
current is flowing through the coil. The second is the opposite that applying a
magnetic field to a coil will cause an electrical current to flow; this is used when
reading back the previously written information. Again here, the direction that
the current flows depends on the direction of the magnetic field applied to the
coil. Newer (MR and GMR4) heads don't use the induced current in the coil to
read back the information; they function instead by using the principle of
magneto resistance, where certain materials change their resistance when
subjected to different magnetic fields.

The superb diagram on the next page (sourced from www.tomshardware.com)


illustrates the operation of the read/write head in relation to the platters. When
there is a change of flux (Φ), the direction of the magnetic field, a pulse is read
and the sensitive electronics filter out any background noise and amplify the
signal enough to create a meaningful output for the computer to use.

Figure 3.3.2-3 Diagram showing read/write head (from www.tomshardware.com)

Conclusion
Even though this case study only partial covers the operation and construction of
a hard disk drive, it still provides some insight into this fascinating and essential
part of everyday computers.

The Fujitsu MPC3043AT which I was supplied with maybe a ten year old hard
drive, but many of its operating principles remain the same, with only

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MR is magneto resistive and GMR is giant magneto resistive. To go into detail about
these defenitions would take many pages, so they have been left out.
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improvements in access speeds having been gained through further
development of the technology.

The future of hard drives seems to be heading towards solid state drives, which
have no moving parts and therefore allow them to be deployed in fields of use
far beyond that of the current generation of hard drives. If the rate at which the
amount of data we can store keeps going at the same exponential rate it has in
the past ten years, we will be able to store terabytes of data for a fraction of the
cost in the very near future.

Christopher Tayler