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A hard disk drive (HDD) is a data storage device used for storing and retrieving digital information using rapidly rotating discs (platters) coated with magnetic material. An HDD retains its data even when powered off. Data is read in a random-access manner, meaning individual blocks of data can be stored or retrieved in any order rather than just sequentially. An HDD consists of one or more rigid ("hard") rapidly rotating discs (platters) with magnetic heads arranged on a moving actuator arm to read and write data to the surfaces.
Introduced by IBM in 1956, HDDs became the dominant secondary storage device for general purpose computers by the early 1960s. Continuously improved, HDDs have maintained this position into the modern era of servers and PCs. More than 200 companies have produced HDD units, though most current units are manufactured by Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital. Worldwide revenues for HDDs shipments are expected to reach $38 billion in 2012, up about 19% from $32 billion in 2011.
The primary characteristics of an HDD are its capacity and performance. Capacity is specified in unit prefixes corresponding to powers of 1000: a 1-terabyte (TB) drive has a capacity of 1,000 gigabytes (GB; where 1 gigabyte = 1 billion bytes). Typically, some of an HDD's capacity is unavailable to the user due to use by the file system and the computer operating system, and possibly inbuilt redundancy for error correction and recovery. Performance is specified by the time to move the heads to a file (Average Access Time) plus the time it takes for the file to move under its head (average latency, a function of the physical rotational speed in revolutions per minute) and the speed at which the file is transmitted (data rate).
The two most common form factors for modern HDDs are 3.5-inch in desktop computers and 2.5-inch in laptops. HDDs are connected to systems by standard interface cables such as SATA (Serial ATA), USB or SAS (Serial attached SCSI) cables.
Parallel ATA (PATA), originally AT Attachment, is an interface standard for the connection of storage devices such as hard disks, floppy drives, and optical disc drives in computers. The standard is maintained by X3/INCITS committee. It uses the underlying AT Attachment (ATA) and AT Attachment Packet Interface (ATAPI) standards.
The Parallel ATA standard is the result of a long history of incremental technical development, which began with the original AT Attachment interface, developed for use in early PC AT equipment. The ATA interface itself evolved in several stages from Western Digital's original Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) interface. As a result, many near-synonyms for ATA/ATAPI and its previous incarnations are still in common informal use. After the introduction of Serial ATA in 2003, the original ATA was renamed Parallel ATA, PATA for short.
Parallel ATA cables have a maximum allowable length of only 18 in (457 mm). Because of this limit, the technology normally appears as an internal computer storage interface. For many years ATA provided the most common and the least expensive interface for this application. It has largely been replaced by Serial ATA (SATA) in newer systems.