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What Does A Hard Drive Look Like?

Reviewed By: Kevin Pocock

Last Updated on December 1, 2023
What Does A Hard Drive Look Like
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Hard drives are incredibly useful devices that play an important role in our everyday lives, indirectly if not directly. Hard disk drives (HDD) are a primary mode of storage used for computers, although solid-state alternatives (SSDs) are replacing them.

What does a hard drive look like - WD Red
Internal drives are encased in metal, with a label showing model and capacity

Hard drives use magnetic storage to save and retrieve data that relies on rotating platters, surrounded by magnetic material which differs depending based on what hard drive you own.

Magnetic heads are used to read data from the platter surface. And they also write data onto the platters, so that you can retrieve and save information from your hard drive.

From this description alone you probably have a fairly good idea of what a hard drive looks like. But there are different types of hard drive: including external hard drives, and internal hard drives. And while both perform the same basic data storage function, they both look slightly different externally.

Internal Hard Drives

Usually, if you want to see what an internal hard drive looks like, all you’d have to do is open your PC and it’ll be at the front and perhaps top of your pc tower. These internal drives have been in PCs for decades

Hard drives are also present in some laptops, now predominantly as media storage drives, and these are a smaller style. But we’d advise not opening your laptop to have a look – unless it is out of warranty and you’re comfortable doing so.

Most internal hard drives look similar regardless of size, enclosed in screwed-shut metal casing, with screw-holes available along the sides to allow them to be secured in a system.

External Hard Drives

What do external hard drives look like? Well, slightly different from internal hard drives, external drives go on the outside of a PC case, and therefore look much cleaner and aesthetically pleasing.

They still do the same job on the inside of the hard drive, but the drive itself is encased in an outer material for ease of use and function. Of course, some external drives allow easy access to the hard drive itself, for easy replacement and upgrading.

They’re useful if you require extra hard drive space separate from your computer, and can be quite cost-effective for the amount of storage space you’ll be getting.

Inside Of A Hard Drive

So now we know what the outside of a hard drive looks like, what does the inside of one look like?

It almost looks like an old record player, with a platter that spins around the axis just like we described before.

Instead of the needle spinning around the record though, the read/write head hovers slightly above the physical surface of the disk, which is all the height it needs to function. Contact with the platter would scratch it, damaging the drive.


The two most common measurements for hard drives are 2.5-inch, which are extremely common for laptops, and 3.5-inch which is seen much more often on desktop computers.

These sizes are standardized so repair or replacement is much easier if anything goes wrong with your drives. External hard drives use these two sizes too.

Final Words

What does a hard drive look like? Well, now you know, and you can find them at vendors like Amazon or elsewhere to have a harder look.

Kevin is the Editor of PC Guide. He has a broad interest and enthusiasm for consumer electronics, PCs and all things consumer tech - and more than 15 years experience in tech journalism.