​ Things we take for granted

Anthony Caruana
27 February, 2017
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Last week was hectic. I spent much of the week in the tropical climes of Singapore. As a significant tech and financial hub, a lot happens in this small island nation. I was there as a guest of Seagate – the company paid for my flights and accommodation – to hear about its latest innovations, where it sees the hard drive and storage market going and to visit a couple of the production facilities.

I’m a sucker for a good factory tour and this one didn’t disappoint.
I take the storage in my computers for granted. Although my Mac mini and Windows PC both sport an SSD these days, I still have a number of spinning hard drives for back up storage, to hold my iTunes library and in my NAS. Seeing how these complex devices that we take for granted are made was very interesting. For example, I’d never realised that the platters in many drives are made of glass and the magnetic media that stores our valuable ones and zeroes is made of 16 layers of media that is laid onto the glass (sometimes it aluminium depending on the type of drive) using a process called ‘sputtering’.
At the second facility I visited, which is closer to Malaysia than Changi Airport, I got to see and talk to the people that test drives before they hit the market. I was amazed that the drives are tested, in a special echo-proof room equipped with 10 highly sensitive microphones, to ensure they comply with standards to ensure they are quiet enough. The drop test I saw thumped a hard disk down on six different axes at a force of 1000G to ensure it could cope with the rigours of every day life.
There were other tests – shaking, atmospheric pressure tests to ensure the drives work at high and low altitude, temperature tests of between 70 and -40 Celsius and radio frequency testing both for emissions and to ensure the drives worked when sitting next mobile phones.
The equipment we rely on is incredibly complex. I take it for granted that when I turn my computer on and save a document that making a mobile call won’t destroy my data. But the drive has to be designed for that scenario – something the inventors of the first hard drives in the 1950s would never have considered.
So, when you turn your Mac on think about all of the thousands of different components that come together to make this feat of engineering come together.

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