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Hard Disk Performance Made Easy
If you don't want to bother to concern yourself over the intricacies of hard disk performance measurement, reading specifications and performance-affecting factors, and analyzing tables of benchmarks, there's a crude but very simple and easy way to ensure your system always has very good hard disk performance (not the best possible but very good). It's a technique that I call "hard disk performance in one step". Here's the one step: buy a new hard disk every 12 to 18 months; not necessarily the best one available at the time, but one that represents good value for the money based on the market at the time you make the purchase.
It sounds like I am being tongue-in-cheek, but I'm really not. There are people who actually take this approach, and it can be very effective, if not "optimal". The reason that it works is due to the nature of the hard disk industry. Performance increases so rapidly, and the cost per gigabyte of storage decrease so rapidly, that the hard disks of a given class and price range available today are almost always far superior to the ones available a year or two earlier. If you remember nothing else remember this: the difference in performance between any new drive of a given type and any 18-month old drive of the same type, is far greater than the differences between current offerings of the same type from competing manufacturers. You could pick a 2000 model hard disk at random and it would be a better performer than the top drive of its class and price range from 1998.
Is it too expensive to do this? Well, for some people it is; for others it definitely is not. A good-quality hard disk of a reasonable size costs under $150 these days. It's largely a matter of figuring out what your time is worth. If it saves you hours and hours of research, this may be a worthwhile option for you.
In a similar vein, you should avoid the syndrome that plagues many who make very occasional hard disk purchases. They spend tons of time researching hard drives and buy what is at that time the fastest unit around, often paying far more for it than a drive that is slightly slower. Then they use this same drive for two or three years. Within six months their drive is no longer the fastest on the market; within 18 months it is slower than drives selling for far less than that drive cost when new (and the newer drives have double or triple the capacity to boot).
Am I trying to convince you to buy a new hard disk every year? No, I'm not. I have a frugal streak and certainly wouldn't suggest spending money on hardware without good cause. I'm trying to point out that hard disk performance improves so quickly and so regularly that trying to pick the perfect drive at any given time is often not worth the effort. I'm also saying that if performance is really important to you, you don't want to keep using the same drive year after year after year.