Next-Gen 7,200 RPM Notebook Hard Drives

Options: Encryption, Free Fall Sensors

Disk Encryption

More and more drive manufacturers offer hard drives that come with built-in hardware encryption, which is increasingly important for business customers and possibly interesting even for home users. Typically, all data on a stolen hard drive can easily be accessed once the drive is hooked up to another system. If you don’t want to have to worry about this risk, then you have to use software encryption software.

Those programs can typically be used to store important files into encrypted containers. However, such a software solution requires some level of management—installation, a password, and opening/closing the container when you use it—and they may also require some CPU time. Integrated encryption solutions are entirely transparent until you want to access the drive outside of the environment in which it was installed, prompting you for the master password.

Should a drive or your entire notebook be stolen, you can be sure that no one can access the actual data as long as a drive with hardware encryption is used. Seagate calls the feature FDE, which stands for Full Disk Encryption, but it does not offer the new Momentus 7200.3 with this feature. Hitachi calls it Bulk Disk Encryption (BDE) and provides all capacities with this optional feature. Samsung and Western Digital have not yet offered these options.

Free Fall Sensor Options

Free fall sensors have sometimes been added to business notebooks such as Lenovo’s T series. It does make a lot of sense to move this feature right to where it is required, though: into hard drives. Physical defects still are one of the most critical issues, since a head crashed into the platter surface results in a broken drive. You will only be able to restore data if the heads are removed and replaced by working ones—this is performed by data recovery companies such as CBL Data Recovery, Kroll Ontrack or Seagate Services, and it costs a lot of money.

An acceleration sensor helps to avoid such situations. These sensors constantly monitor the acceleration of the drive, and are able to detect rapid changes in physical position. Should acceleration increase faster than specified, the free fall sensor will command the hard drive to move the heads into a secure parking position, likely preventing a head crash.

The feature makes sense when you gently throw your notebook to a new position, such as a couch, for example.

However, free fall sensor operation includes a time lag that results from the fact that a falling object must traverse a minimum distance before it can reliably detect that excessive acceleration is happening—usually the distance is somewhere between 8” and 16” (20 to 40 cm). Clearly, free fall sensors don’t completely replace your responsibility to treat hard drives properly to maximize life expectancy.

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OptionWith Free Fall SensorWithout Free Fall Sensor
Western DigitalWDxxxxBJKTWDxxxxBEKT