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They all use the same medium (the material on which the data is stored), diskette
drives, hard disk drives, and tape drives use similar techniques for reading and writing
data. The surfaces of diskettes, hard disks, and magnetic tape are all coated with a
magnetically sensitive material (usually iron oxide) that reacts to a magnetic field.
Just as transistor can represent binary data as “on” or “off”, the orientation of a
magnetic field can be used to represent data. A magnet has one important advantage
over a transistor: it can represent “on” and “off” without a continual source of
Hard Disk
A hard disk is a thin, circular metal plate/platter coated on both sides with a
magnetic material. It is very similar in appearance to a LP gramophone record. A disk
pack consists of a number of these disks, three or more, mounted about half-an-inch
apart from each other on a central shaft which rotates at speeds of 2,400 or more
revolutions per minute (rpm). Thus all the disks of a disk pack move simultaneously in
the same direction and at equal speed. Magnetic disks are the most popular medium for
direct-access secondary storage.
Storage of information
In a disk pack, information is stored on both the surfaces of each disk plate
except the upper surface of the top plate and the lower surface of the bottom plate,
which are not used. Each disk consists of a number of invisible concentric circles called
tracks. A set of corresponding tracks in all the surfaces is called a cylinder. Thus a disk
pack having 10 disk plates will have 18 recording surfaces and hence it will have 18
tracks per cylinder. Each track is further subdivided into sectors.
Information is recorded on the tracks of a disk surface in the form of a
magnetized spot represents a 1 bit and its absence represents a 0 bit. A standard binary
code, usually 8-bit EBCDIC, is used for recording data. In some systems, the outer
tracks contain more bits than the inner tracks, because the circumference of an outer
track is greater than that of an inner track. However in most systems, each track
contains the same number of characters, which means that the outer track of the disk is
less densely packed with characters than those towards the center.
The data stored on a magnetic disk remains indefinitely until they are erased and
reused at a future time.
Storage Capacity
The more disk surfaces a particular disk pack has, the greater will be its storage
capacity. But the storage capacity of disk system also depends on the tracks per inch of
surface and the bits per inch of track. Although the diameter of a standard sized disk is
14 inches, some disks are quite large running up to feet in diameter. Larger disks have
more tracks and hence they have greater storage capacity.
The total number of bytes that can be stored in a disk pack is: Number of
cylinders x Tracks per cylinder x Sectors per track x Bytes per sector.


Track 000

Fig a. Tracks on a disk. The number

of tracks varies (often 200 or more).
The outer track is numbered 000 and
inner track number is one less than
total number of tracks. The inner track
on a disk with 200 tracks is numbered

For a typical example, let us assume that a disk pack has 10 disk plates each having 200
tracks. Suppose there are 40 sectors per track and each sector can store 256 bytes. Since
the disk pack has 10 disk plates, so it will have 18 recording surfaces or in the other
words 18 tracks per cylinder. 200 tracks per plate mean that there are 200 cylinders. So
the capacity of this disk pack is: 200 x 18 x 40 x 256 = 3684000 bytes or 36.864 million
Disk packs are potentially very high capacity storage devices typically in the
range 20 to 1000 megabytes (M bytes). One megabyte is equal to 106 bytes. Essentially
one character can be stored per byte. So a 50 M byte disk pack has the capacity to store
50 million characters of information.
Accessing of data
Data are recorded on the tracks of a spinning disk surfaces and read from the
surface by one or more read/write heads. There are two basic types of disk systems –
moving-head and fixed head. The moving head-system consists of one read/write head
for each disk surface mounted on an access arm, which can be moved in and out. So in
this system, each read /write head moves horizontally across the surface of the disk so
that it is able to access each track individually. Each usable surface of the disk pack has
its own head and all the heads move together. Information stored on the tracks, which
constitute a cylindrical shape through the disk pack, is therefore accessed
simultaneously. Note the cylindrical storage arrangement of information in a disk pack.


Fig b. A disk having 3 disk Central Shaft

platters. The upper surface Upper Surface
of the top plate and the Not Used
lower surface of the bottom
plate are not used. So Surface --- 0
altogether there are 4
usable surfaces numbered
0,1,2 and 3. A set of
Surface --- 1
corresponding tracks on all
the 4 surfaces is called a
cylinder as shown here. Surface --- 2
A Cylinder

Surface --- 3

Lower Surface
Not used

In the fixed head system, the access arm is non-movable. A large number of read/write
heads are distributed over the disk surfaces, one head for each track. As a result, no
head movement is required and therefore information is accessed more quickly.
However, because of the space required for the additional read/write heads, foxed-
head disks have less capacity and cost more per byte of data stored than moving-head
The disk pack on some disk storage devices is permanently fixed in position,
while on others; the pack can be removed and replaced by another one in a matter of
seconds. So the storage capacity of a removable disk pack system is virtually unlimited
because the storage space can be increased without the heavy expense of buying
another complete device. In this context, it is important to note that exchangeable disk
packs are only associated with moving-head systems. The disk packs of a fixed-head
system are non-removable.


One read/write head Shaft
Per surface

Fig c. Vertical cross section of a

moving head disk system. There is
one read/write head per surface.
The heads move horizontally
across the surface of the disk.

Movable access

Direction of
arm movement

Another point to be noted is that in case of both the fixed-head and the moving –head
systems, the read/write heads are of flying type, i.e. they do not have direct contact
with the surface of the disks. When a disk rotates at a high speed, a thin layer of air
rotates with the disk. The head is so shaped that it rides on this layer of rotating air,
thus maintaining a separation of about 1/400th of an inch from the disk surface. This
prevents wear on the surface of the disk.
Access Time. In order to access information from a disk, the disks address of the
desired data has to be specified. The disk address is specified in terms of the track
number, the surface number, and the sector number. Information is always written
from the beginning of a sector and can be read only from the track beginning.
As soon as the disk until receives a read/write command, the read/write heads
are first positioned on to the specified tack number by moving the arm assembly in the
proper direction. This involves a mechanical motion of the arms and is slow. The time
required to position the head over the proper track is called the seek time. The seek time
varies depending on the position of the arm assembly when a read/write command is
received. If the arm assembly is positioned on the outer most track and the track to be
reached is the inner most one then the seek time will be maximum, and it will be zero if
the arm assembly already happened to be on the desired track. The average seek time is
thus specified for most systems which is generally somewhere between several
milliseconds to fractions of a second. Note that seek time is associated only with
movable-head systems. For a fixed-head system, the seek time is always zero because
there is a head for each track and no movement of head is required for accessing a
particular track.


Once the heads are positioned on the desired track, the head on the specified
surface is activated. Since the disk is continuously rotating, this head should wait for
the desired data (specified sector) to come under it. This rotational waiting time, i.e. the
time required to spin the needed data under the head is called the “latency time”. The
latency time is also a variable and depends on the distance of the desired data from the
initial position of the head on the specified track. It also depends on the rotational speed
of the disk. An average latency time is thus normally specified which is of the order of
10 to 15 milliseconds.
The total access time for a disk is equal to the seek time plus the latency time. The
average access time for most disk systems is usually between 10 and 100 milliseconds.
Technically speaking, disk systems have direct but not random access to the stored
data. Random access refers to a storage device in which the access time is independent
of the physical location of the data. For example, primary storage is random access
storage. Since the disk access time is dependent on the physical location of data, it is
more correct to say that disks provide direct access. This distinction is not always
observed and hence disk systems are sometimes referred to as random access storage
The data transfer rate of a disk system depends on the density of the stored data
and the rotational speed of the disk. Maximum rate usually ranges between 400,000 and
2 million characters per second.
Diskette drives
The drive includes a motor that rotates the disk on a spindle and read/write
heads that can move to any spot on the disk’s surface as the disk spins. This capability
is important because it allows the heads to access data randomly rather than
sequentially. Diskettes, which often called floppy disks or simply floppies, spin at
around 300 revolutions per minute. Therefore, the longest it can take to position the
diskette under the read/write heads is the amount of time required for one revolution –
about 0.2 second. The farthest the heads would ever have to move is from the center of
the diskette to the outside edge. The heads can move from the center to the outside edge
in even less time –about 0.17 second. Because both operations (rotating the diskette and
moving the heads from the center to the outside edge) take place simultaneously, the
maximum time to position the heads over a given location on the diskette -known as
the maximum access time(or seek time)-remains the greater of the two times, or 0.2
second. Actually, though, the maximum access time for diskettes can be even longer,
because diskettes do not spin when they are not being used. It can take as much as 0.5
second to rotate the disk from a dead stop.
The most common uses of diskettes are as follows.
Types of Diskettes
During the 1980s, most PCs used 5.25 –inch diskettes. Today, though, the 3.5 –
inch diskette has largely replaced its 5.25-inch cousin. The size refers to the diameter of
the disk, not to the capacity. The 5.25 –inch type is encased in a flexible vinyl envelope
with an oval cutout that allows the read/write head to access the disk.
The 3.5 –inch type is encased in a hard plastic shell with a sliding metal cover. When the
disk is inserted into the drive, the cover slides back to expose the diskette to the

read/write head. It is important to realize that both these types are diskettes. The term
diskette refers to the disk inside, not to the square plastic protector.
Both types of diskette have evolved from lower to higher densities. The density of the
disk is a measure of the capacity of the disk surface. The higher the density, the more
closely the iron-oxide particles are packed, and the more data the disk can store. Thus a
diskette marked “high density” can store more data than one marked “double density”.
Nowadays the 3.5-inch diskettes are available in 1.44 MB and 2.88 MB capacities. The
3.5-inch diskettes are also more durable. As a result, the 5.25-inch diskette has virtually
Although the high-density 2.88 MB floppy disk holds more data than the standard high
–density 1.44 MB floppy disk, you need a special floppy disk drive to read the higher-
density disk. The 2.88 MB floppy disk drive was released by Toshiba Corporation in 19
87 and was adopted by IBM for the ps/2 system in 1991. Most other PCs, however, do
not include 2.88 MB floppy disk driver.
Tape Drives
Tape drives read and write data to the surface of a tape the same way an
audiocassette recorder does. The difference is that a computer tape drive writes digital
data rather than analog data- discrete “1s” and “0s” rather than the finely arranged
signals created by sounds in an audio recorder.
The best use of tape storage is for data that you do not use often, such as back up copies
of your hard disk. Because a tape is a long strip of magnetic material, the tape drive has
to write data to it sequentially one byte after another. Sequential access is inherently
slower than the direct access provided by media such as disks, When you want to
access a specific set of set of data on a tape, the drive has to scan through all the data
you do not need to get to the data you want. The result is a slow access time. In fact the
access time varies depending on the speed of the drive, the length of the tape, and the
position on the tape to which the head wrote the data in the first place.
Despite the long access times, however tape drives are well suited for certain purposes
especially for backing up entire hard disks. Backing up using removable hard disks is
usually expensive. Tape, however, offers an inexpensive way to store a lot of data on a
single cassette.
Tape was one of the first widely used media for mass storage. Early mainframe
computers used reel-to-reel tape systems. Today most tapes are housed in cassettes that
contain both reels of the tape. The cassettes come in many sizes, but most are about the
same size or smaller than an audiocassette. Oddly, you cannot tell much about the
capacity of a tape from the cassette’s size. Some of the largest cassettes have capacities
of only 40 to 60 MB, whereas some of the smallest micro cassettes can hold as much as 8
GB of data.

Optical storage techniques make use of the pinpoint precision possible only with
laser beams. A laser user a concentrated, narrow beam of light, focused and directed
with lenses, prisms, and mirrors. The tight focus of the laser beam is possible because
the light is all the same wavelength.


There are two common types of optical technology. The most widely used type is
compact disk (CD) technology, which is used in CD-ROM, WORM, Photo CD, and CD-
Record able.
The familiar audio compact disk is a popular medium for storing music. In the computer world,
however, the medium is called compact disk, read-only memory (CD-ROM)

Rotation of disk
Land bit = 1 Land bit = 1
Pit bit= Pit bit=

Prism Prism

Laser Laser

The CD-ROM drive for music or data reads 0s and 1s off a spinning disk by focusing a laser on
the disk’s surfaces. Some areas of the disk reflect the laser light into a sensor, whereas others
scatter the light. A spot that reflects the laser beam into the sensor is interpreted as a 1, and the
absence of a reflection is interpreted as a 0.
CD-ROM Speeds
Compared to hard disk drives, CD-ROM drives are quite slow, in part because
the laser reads pits and lands one bit at a time. Another reason has to do with the
changing rotational speed of the disk. Like a track on a magnetic disk, the track of an
optical disk is split into sectors.
As you can see, the sectors near the middle of the CD wrap farther around the disk than
those near the edge. For the drive to read each sector in the same amount of time, it
must spin the disk faster when reading sectors near the middle, and slower when
reading sectors near the edge. Changing the speed of rotation takes time enough to
seriously impair the overall speed of the CD-ROM drive.



Sectors are wider at the edge than Sectors form a continuous spiral,
They are near the middle. and each sector is the same width.

The fact that you cannot write data to a CD-ROM does not mean that this storage
medium is not useful. In fact, many applications rely on huge volumes of data that
rarely change. For example, dictionaries; encyclopedias; professional reference libraries;
music; and video all require tremendous amounts of data that you would not normally
want to alter even if you could.
CD-Recordable, WORM disks, and Photo CD
For large quantities, manufacturers with expensive duplication equipment can
produce CD-ROM disks. For fewer copies or even single copies, a CD-record able
(CD-R) drive can be attached to a computer as a regular peripheral device. CD-R
drives allow you to create your own CD-ROM disks that can be read by any CD-
ROM drive. After information cannot be changed. However, with most CD-R
drives, you can continue to record information to other parts of the disk until it is
Phase-Change Rewritable Drives
Phase-change rewritable drives are similar to the write-once, read-many
(WORM) drives in that a field of lasers writes and reads data on the phase change disk.
With WORM drives, however, you can write only once to the disk. Phase-change disks
can be written to more than once. This is due to the laser beam altering the molecular
structure of the disk. One downside to phase-change disks is that they cannot be read
by conventional CD-ROM drive. You must have a phase-change drive to read them.