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Increasing Hard Drive Performance

The following question was posed in a newsgroup that I regularly read. Below is the question and the answer I supplied. This may help those with slow hard drives & want to do something about it.

Question: Upon testing my hardware's performance, my hard drive rated as being very slow. Having minimal or no data fragmentation and the majority of the drive's space is free/open, how can I improve the performance of my hard drive?

Answer: There are a several things which can slow down hard drive performance. I'll try to cover some of the more important ones below. Most of these are based on the hardware itself and how the OS handles it.

  • The drive's platter rotation speed can slow things down. In general, the faster the drive's platter rotation speed is (rated in RPMs), the faster the data can be accessed. For example if your drive is rated at 4200 rpm, you can upgrade to a faster drive, with a higher rated RPM speed - such as ones rated at 5400 or 7200 RPM. Doing so will make the system react quicker to hard drive data accessing.
  • the drive itself may read/write data more slowly due to the drive's on board cache. In general, the larger the drive's cache, the more efficient the drive will be at reading/writing data. If you have a lot of data going in and out of that drive all the time, the larger on board cache will help to keep the drive running more efficiently.
  • The amount of RAM you have installed to your PC/laptop will affect overall hard drive & system performance. If you have too little RAM and are running RAM hungry applications, the OS will need to keep swapping data from RAM to/from the hard drive, in order to keep what you are working on in memory. By increasing the amount of RAM on your PC/laptop, you will significantly increase the overall speed of your laptop and limit the amount of data that must be swapped to/from RAM with your hard drive.
  • The hard drive may be rated at some ultra ATA speed (such as 33, 66, 100, 133, etc...) but your PC/laptop not be setup to support that max speed or that feature may not have been turned on within your BIOS &/or OS.

    If the drive's ultra ATA speed is rated below what your PC/laptop can handle, you can upgrade to a faster drive to take advantage of this ability.

    If the drive matches/exceeds your PC/laptop's max specifications, you should check your PC/laptop's BIOS & OS driver settings for the hard drive, to ensure DMA ability has been enabled & set at its optimum setting.

  • Slow hard drive performance issues can also be minimized by adjusting your OS's look ahead ability, with regards to hard drive accessing. Specifically referring to the fast find ability in windows and prelink ability in Linux. In some PCs/laptops, enabling this will help and in other cases disabling it will help increase the system's performance. You will need to experiment to see which option works best for your specific system.
  • Keeping your drivers updated is also very important. You should ensure you are running the most current drivers for your hardware. Driver upgrades address bugs, security issues, stability and hardware performance. By upgrading the drivers to the most current versions, you are ensuring the old drivers are not causing a bottle neck, thus affecting your hard drive performance.

Overall, all of these things will affect a PC/laptop's performance, especially with regards to a hard drive's reading/writing performance.

It is best to go through each of these, one at a time, and see what you can adjust or enhance. I would say start with the device drivers, BIOS & OS adjustments first. Then proceed with adding additional RAM &/or replacing a slow hard drive with a faster one, if you are not satisfied with the overall performance of your tweaked hard drive & PC/laptop configuration.

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