5400 RPM hard drives should be illegal

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No, seriously, they should (OK, OK, I’m not being literal, but still). In today’s age of technology, this is one of those things that for whatever reason is still around, even though everything it interacts with has leaped forward.

A few years ago (think circa 2008) it was a different story. When I worked for the telco, I was given a Dell Latitude D620 laptop to work it (which by the way is still one of my favorite laptops ever). The specs were:

– Intel Core Duo T2400 1.83GHz
– 1GB 533MHz DDR2 RAM (2 x 512MB)
– 80GB 5400RPM HD
– 14.1-inch WXGA screen
– Integrated graphics (Intel Media Accelerator 950)
– 24X CDRW / DVD Combo
– Windows XP Professional
– Dell Wireless 1490 802.11 a/g and built-in Bluetooth

Based on these specs, the 5400 RPM hard drive fit the bill just fine. I had a gig of RAM at 533MHz, a decent processor from Intel’s Duo line, and Windows XP Pro. But this isn’t 2008 anymore. This is 2014. And in 2014, RAM isn’t clocking in at 533MHz anymore, it’s upwards of 1600MHz, a 3x speed increase. Processors have gone to Intel’s Core i3, i5 and i7 models, much faster with more FSB (Front Side Bus) speeds and more on-board cache. The operating systems have gotten faster, with 64-bit being the norm and the newer Windows 7 / 8 kernels faster and more stable than before.

So what does this all mean ? Well to put it into a nutshell, in 2008, the general bottleneck for most computers was RAM. In 2014, the general bottleneck isn’t RAM anymore, it’s becoming (more and more), hard drives. We’re at a point where the rest of our hardware (RAM, CPU, MB, etc.) can handle faster speeds and more processing than our hard drives can deliver. So when people find their computers to be sluggish and slow, they automatically assume they need more RAM or a better CPU, because that’s what was generally the issue in the past. Never before have we heard of the hard drive as being the cause of a bottleneck in speed, so naturally, it isn’t the first thing we think about.

I would actually argue, however, that 5400 RPM hard drives are still fine for the basic home computer. The laptop that just gets used by the kids and for looking up recipes and surfing Facebook. The desktop that’s used just to print out bills and letters. Basic tasks like this don’t require anything more than a 5400 RPM hard drive. But as soon as we start talking about using a computer for business or professional tasks, 5400 RPM simply isn’t enough.

So what should we be looking for ? Well, at a minimum, 7200 RPM if you’re sticking with a traditional spinner hard drive. Better yet, you should be looking for SSDs, or Solid State Drives. These will deliver MUCH higher performance compared to spinner hard drives. I won’t get into too much detail on SSDs, but I’ll leave you with a few links at the bottom of this post.

Remember, technology changes very rapidly. What caused issues yesterday may not cause issues today, and what wasn’t a bottleneck today might very well be a bottleneck tomorrow.

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Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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