Guides

  • Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives

    Before I get into the granular details I'll just come out and explain in simple terms, a hard drive in your computer is basically a stack of discs like what you used to put into a CD player. These discs are called platters and the internals of a hard drive reads and writes to them like you would when you burn a disc and then play it back. This is likely what you have storing all of the files on your computer.

    Hard Drive Platters

    A solid state drive or often called an SSD is a lot more like the flash drive you use to move documents from one computer to the other sometimes. This is made up of small memory chips that pass electricity through to retrieve the data. You might have one of these storing all of the files on your computer

    Solid State Drive

    So now that you understand on a basic level what a hard drive and solid state drive are we can talk a little bit more about what they do and how they differ. The first one I will cover is the hard drive. Like I explained earlier, a hard drive is basically a collection of discs stacked up all ready to be read and written to without needing to swap anything out. It stores data by magnetizing and demagnetizing specific areas. It is first split up into tracks which are the concentric paths around a platter. These are like the eight lanes on a running track, but on a hard drive there are many more than 8. Then the tracks are further split up into sectors.

    Hard drive sectors

    Continuing with the running track analogy this is like the distance from the 0 to 100m being a sector and from the 100m to 200m being another sector. With this organization system it is much easier for the hard drive to figure out where things are because it can be directed to the correct track and sector and then look in that specific area for the data. Just like a runner on a track it takes the platters a little bit to process and start spinning and get to the destination. This delay before any data can be transferred is caused by a few things. First the read-write head must move to the correct track on the hard drive. Then the platter must be spun to the correct sector to grab the data. The time it take for the read-write head to move to the correct track is called the seek time and the time it takes on average to get to the correct sector is called the rotational latency. This delay means that it is not as good at handling lots of random bits of data but it is good at dealing with continuous writes and reads. This is why it is very beneficial to defragment your hard drive every once in a while. It organizes your data into a less random layout so that the platters can be read faster without needing to do as much track seeking and sector searching.

    The measurement of how many random operations a storage device can do is usually measured in IOPS(input/output operations per second). As stated, these are relatively low for hard drives, they likely will not exceed a couple hundred IOPS. On the flipside, their throughput, the measure of their sustained reads and writes is pretty good. This means that if you are doing a large backup and just copying all of the files over the drive can just go from track to track copying everything relatively quickly. These are measured in MB/s(megabytes per second). For hard drives, these will also likely top out somewhere a little bit above the 200 MB/s range. So they have low IOPS and decent Throughput, so why does everyone still use them? The main reason is that they are still kings when it comes to capacity and cost. Capacities go all the way up to 12TB and larger is still on the roadmap. While cramming 12TB in a single drive they are still relatively affordable. A 4TB drive can be had for roughly $100 USD and for many people this is way more storage than they will ever need. A common metric people look at is price per GB(gigabyte). For hard drives like the 4TB at $100 it is a very impressive $.025/GB.

    PCIE SSD

    Now that we have thoroughly covered hard drives we can move onto SSD's. The biggest advantage SSD's have is speed. Every which way you look at it, SSD's are faster. Their IOPS are off the charts in comparison to hard drives. While hard drives were in the range of a couple hundred, SSD's are in the neighborhood of over 100,000 for some of the faster ones. This is partially because they do not have to spend any time searching tracks or changing sectors. There are no moving parts, it is simply the time it takes to process the request and the electricity to find the right part. At the same time, the throughput is very high. These devices are so fast that they have maxed out the capacity of the interface used to traditionally connect hard drives and some have moved to slots directly on the motherboard.

    The fastest SSD's can push a throughput of 2000+ MB/s. Ten times faster than the fastest hard drives. Another advantage of SSD's is their heartines. Because they have no moving parts like a hard drive has, they can endure more vibration, impact, pressure and temperature. They are incredibly reliable devices now that can last 10+ years while many hard drives will not make it past 5. The SSD's downfall, at least for now, is the price per GB is relatively high and they do not come in sizes comparable to hard drives without costing an arm and a leg. You can expect a single 1TB SSD to cost over $200 even if you get a great deal meaning that the SSD's GB/$ rate is 8 times that of the 4 TB hard drive.

    So in summary, SSD's are the pure performance king but currently cost quite a bit more per gigabyte so they are mostly best for applications where extreme speeds are needed. Hard drives are still widespread and have a legitimate space in many applications. Any application where lots of storage is eaten up like video and audio is a good place to use hard drives instead of SSD's if you cannot swing the budget for them.

  • What is RAID and why would I use it?

    You may have read on forums or seen somewhere mentioning RAID 0 when bragging about their system, but not really known what it was about. RAID is an acronym that stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. At the heart of it, RAIDing drives is something that is done to use multiple hard drives, solid state drives or other storage media in order to add performance or make a system more resilient to drive failure or sometimes do both. There are a few different types of RAID and I think once I explain each type you will have a better understanding of what RAID is really good for.

    RAID 0

    The first type I am going to go over is RAID 0. For a long time this was very popular but has slowly declined in popularity as SSD's have become more popular. In this kind of RAID you stripe the data across 2 or more drives. What I mean by this is that if you have two drives, you put one part of a file on Hard drive A and then the second part on Hard drive B. This is fantastic for speed because instead of needing to wait for one drive to read the entire file you split the load across two drives and can theoretically get it done in half the time. This comes at a great cost though because it means if one of your two drives fails then you are out of luck because all of your data is gone and it likely isn't recoverable. This means total data loss. As you add more and more drives RAID 0 makes much less sense because for every drive you add in you increase the chance of total data loss because you only need one of your many drives to fail to put the entire thing up in smoke. This has slowly become less popular because SSD's perform at such a fast speed that RAIDing hard drives can't reach even a single SSD's speed and responsiveness and very few consumers can justify the cost of more than one SSD for a negligible real-world performance boost. Going twice as fast when your response time is already nearly instant does not make a huge difference for the end user.

    RAID 1 RAID 1


    The second type I'll explain is RAID 1. This one uses mirroring. This one, as the name states, mirrors the data from half the drives to the other half. So in this scenario if you have two drives then hard drive A and hard drive B are copies of each other. You can also gain speed benefits from this because having copies of your data on two drives means that when something needs to be read it can search each hard drive simultaneously so performance is equal to the first of either drives. On the flipside when writing, the write speed has to stay with the speed of the slowest drive. One of the biggest advantages of this layout is that the RAID array can continue functioning with up to half of your drives failing. In a RAID 1 the total capacity is half the size of your total capacity as each drive has a double of itself. So if you have 4 4TB drives then you will only have 8TB's to work with. This array type does not make much sense if you have a large number of devices either because you lose so much capacity. This array is primarily used when the data is very important and can't be lost.

    RAID 5/ RAID 6RAID 5

    The last ones I will talk about are RAID 5 and RAID 6. These are very similar so I have bundled them together. Basically how this works is that instead of purely doing striping or purely doing mirroring you do something kind of in between using a parity bit. What this means is that you stripe the data across all of the drives, but then you also stripe a portion of the data across all of the drives again so that if any of the drives fail then you will be able to recreate the lost drive with the bits of data you striped across the still functional drives. This means that you get pretty much all of the benefits of RAID 0 while also having some tolerance for drive failure. RAID 5 makes it so you only lose one drives worth of capacity and RAID 6 makes it so you lose two drives of capacity but you may also lose two drives and still have all your data. At this point most people do not use RAID 5 if they have a large array because it is very dangerous to only allow one drive to die at a time and the chance of one of the drives going bad mid rebuild is too high. Most people have moved onto RAID 6 who have 5+ drives.RAID 6

    To summarize: RAID 0(stripe): Fastest reads and write, don't lose any drives, total data loss if you lose any drives RAID 1(mirror): Fast reads and slow writes, can lose half of your drives with no data loss RAID 5/6(parity): only slightly slower reads and writes than RAID 0 and ability to lose one drive in RAID 5 and two drives in RAID 6

  • Making a Bootable Flash Drive

    In order to flash BIOSes you frequently need to go outside of the your operating system because you cannot do a live flash. If this is the case then you will need a bootable environment in order to execute the BIOS flash. I will walk you through how to do this for a Dell system using their utility. First, you will have to download the Dell Diagnostic Deployment Package. Run this executable and then continue through the process it guides you through. After that has completed unzipping the files go to where you chose to extract it and select the "DIAGS" folder. Delete everything from this folder except for:

    • COMMAND.COM
    • DellBIO.BIN
    • DELLRMK.BIN
    • AUTOEXEC.BAT
    • CONFIG.SYS

    Now insert the USB Drive. Go back up one layer in the directory and click DDDP. Choose the install to USB Flash Drive option and then next time you boot up it will be bootable. On most Dell systems you can select the USB as the boot device by hitting F12 and selecting it from the list of boot items. If you are going to flash your BIOS with this then you will want to put the BIOS executable on the flash drive at the top level for easy access.

  • How to Update Dell BIOS

    There are many reasons why you might want to update your BIOS. Maybe you want to update to a newer processor that requires a more recent BIOS revision or maybe you are having some system crashing issue that is mentioned in a BIOS release notes and you want to give it a shot to see if it will fix it. Either way, it is best to take care when dealing with the BIOS because you can easily brick your system. In this guide I will show you how to safely update your BIOS so you can move along with your computing needs. The first step is actually locating the BIOS revision that you are interested in and finding it on the Dell support site. You will want to click choose from all products as shown boxed in red

    choose from all products

    Then navigate to the specific model of computer/server you are trying to flash. Once you click that you should see a tab that says "Drivers and downloads" along the left side. Then you will see a dropdown that includes a BIOS option. You can click download directly from that dropdown for the most recent version or you may click "View details" and read the release notes as well as look at past releases to see what other changes have been made. One thing to note is that many systems cannot be flashed if they do not have a processor or memory installed so if you are planning on using a processor or memory that does not have support on the current BIOS revision then you will have to either borrow from a friend who has an older item for you to flash with or double check that the system you are installing into has an updated BIOS. After you have determined which BIOS version will best work for you download it and put it onto a bootable USB drive. Once you have that arranged restart the target system with the USB drive plugged in. Hit F12 while booting and choose to boot from the USB drive. Once that has booted you should see a command prompt. Once you are there type down the exact file you downloaded and hit enter. This should open up the program and give you some prompts and guide you through the rest of the process. Make sure you allow this process to run completely or you may brick your system. This can take several minutes so make sure you have consistent power, maybe even put your system on a UPS during this process if it is not already on one and don't turn the system off while it may still be doing anything. Other than those considerations though the process should be pretty painless. bios flash dos

  • Factory Reseting Windows 8, 8.1 And 10 If You Don't Have A Password

    Disclaimer: This will wipe all of the data except for the operating system off of the computer. If there is data on the target computer that you need then you will want to find a way to get access and back up the computer before you do the factory reset.

    Why Do A Factory Reset

    There are plenty of reasons to do a factory reset. Sometimes a system gets bogged down over time or gets infected with a virus and it is simpler just to start from scratch than to diagnose individually. Other times you may have simply forgotten your password and need to start over to regain access to the computer. Whatever your reason, the process of doing a factory reset on Windows 8, 8.1, and 10 has become much much easier and it doesn't even require administrator access.

    How To Factory Reset A Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 PC

    1. Find where the power button is for you in your operating system. This is the button you usually press to get the logout, shutdown, restart options. If you are not logged in then you will find it in the bottom right.

    Windows Power Button

    2. Once you have found this button, click on it so that it shows you the various options. Now hold the shift key on your keyboard and click on the restart option. This should lead you to a screen that has a few options

    3. Click on the option that says "Troubleshoot"

    Shift Restart Troubleshooting

    4A. Windows 8 or 8.1 Now if you are on Windows 8 or 8.1 you will see the options Refresh or Reset Your PC. Refresh will try to correct errors in your Windows install and return many settings to default as well as remove some apps, but it will try to keep all of your files in place. If you do not have access to the computer or if you are trying to prepare the item to sell then this is not what you want. If you just want to see if it can fix some minor errors in Windows then it is likely worth trying this before you do a full wipe.Reset will return Windows to factory settings and remove all files and apps. This is likely the option you want if you are preparing to sell the system or want to do a full wipe to regain control of the system.

    Troubleshoot Reset PC

    4B. Windows 10 If you are on Windows 10 then you will be given the option to reset your PC. Click this and then You can choose between keeping your files or removing everything. The keep files option is the same as refresh was for Windows 8 and 8.1. If you choose this then Windows will make an effort to correct errors in the operating system as well as remove some apps but try to keep the files. If you are just trying to correct some errors, but want to keep the data then likely this is what you want. The remove everything option will wipe the computer all the way to factory settings. This will remove all apps and all files and make it so you have access to the computer again if you do not currently have a password.

    Windows 10 Reset Options

    5.The computer will restart a few times now and if you chose the reset option in Windows 8 or remove everything in Windows 10 then you will be left with a computer that is configured just as it came from the factory and is ready to be setup for the first time or sold.

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