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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.
SATA host adapters and devices communicate via a high-speed serial cable over two pairs of conductors. In contrast, parallel ATA (the redesignation for the legacy ATA specifications) used a 16-bit wide data bus with many additional support and control signals, all operating at much lower frequency. To ensure backward compatibility with legacy ATA software and applications, SATA uses the same basic ATA and ATAPI command-set as legacy ATA devices.
SATA has replaced parallel ATA in consumer desktop and laptop computers, and has largely replaced PATA in new embedded applications. SATA's market share in the desktop PC market was 99% in 2008. PATA remains widely used in industrial and embedded applications that use CompactFlash storage, even though the new CFast standard is based on SATA.