Notebook hard drives fail more often than any other computer component. Beyond the usual threats—crashes and destructive viruses—are slippery hands, which can lead to accidental drops. Even when you simply lay your notebook firmly on your desk or on any other hard surface, the impact can shock the hard drive in a way that, over time, can do damage. To combat these hazards, notebook vendors have come up with their own ways to help keep hard drives—and all the precious information on them—safe. But these solutions are primarily implemented on business lines only, not on consumer lines.
IBM's Active Protection System uses a combination of hardware and software components that works much like the air-bag system in your car. A motion sensor on the hard drive's circuit board continuously monitors the notebook for sudden movements. If the computer is dropped, a series of connectors holds the hard drive in place, and then small springs drag the read and write heads into a park position even before the drive stops spinning.
Following IBM's lead, Apple recently introduced its Sudden Motion Sensor technology to its PowerBooks. It operates much like the IBM system, with the hard-drive heads playing a critical role. Toshiba has similar technology too; the Hard Disk Drive Protection System can be found in the latest Tecra models.
Motion sensors like the ones found on the IBM and Apple systems are great when the notebook is on, but what happens when the computer is turned off? A good portion of jolts and drops occur when you're on the road and the system is shut down. Dell Latitudes have been offering "Strike Zone" protection since 1997. It consists of a series of large rubber stoppers at the base of the notebook, which are most effective when the machine falls flat on its base. (Think of when you place your notebook on your desk; the jolt from that last inch of a fall can eventually do some serious damage.)
Apple and IBM also use rubber bumpers, though not as elaborately as Dell. Other vendors, such as HP on its Compaq line, protect their machines' hard drives by physically mounting them to the frame. The chassis provides the additional support and absorbs the bulk of the vibrations.
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