What is a computer “drive,” anyway

Computer folks often throw around words, terms, and acronyms, assuming everyone else knows what they mean. I recently learned that’s a bad assumption, though, as a customer discussing backing up files to an external hard drive remarked, “You know, I don’t think I really know what a hard drive is. What is a computer ‘drive,’ anyway?”

Wow, good question. In a nutshell, a computer “drive,” also called a “disk drive,” is a device that stores digital information from your computer, sort of like keeping beans in a jar. Beans can be added to or removed from the jar as desired, just as the zeroes and ones (0 and 1) that comprise digital information can be added to or removed from a computer disk drive as the computer user chooses.

All computer information is made up of drive anyway of various combinations of zeroes and ones. Those numbers are the “digital” components of the language that computers speak. When discussing computer “files” and the need for you to “back up” your files, we are talking about large groups of zeros and ones that have been created when you type a manuscript, take a photograph with a digital camera, or send a text message from your phone. That picture of the kids at Thanksgiving dinner is, in its basic form, nothing more than a big batch of numbers called a “file.” Computers have the ability to take that group of numbers and turn it into an image on a screen.

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Computer drives are designed to allow us to store our files and retrieve them when needed. They were originally called “disk” drives because they were recorded on round things called “disks.” “Floppy” disks kept the information on a fragile, round piece of spinning material about the thickness of a piece of paper and were about 3-1/2, 5-1/4, or 8 inches in diameter. Housed inside a plastic or paper sheath, they were used in floppy disk drives. Very few people continue to use floppy disk drives.

“Hard” disks use round platters made of a very stiff material, usually aluminum, glass, and/or ceramic. As with floppy disks, hard disks are coated with a layer of magnetic material that allows information to be stored, similar to the magnetic tape used in tape recorders. Hard disks and the electronic circuits that make them work are mounted inside rigid housings, and the entire assembly is called a hard disk drive, or, simply, “hard drive.” Hard drives can be mounted inside computers or inside enclosures that allow them to be easily moved from one location to another. Drives like this are called “external” or “portable” hard drives.


Music CDs (Compact Disks) and DVDs (Digital Video Disks) are called “optical” disks because, rather than using magnetic technology to store information, they use optical technology in the form of lasers. A powerful but tiny laser beam scans the spinning disk to read and/or record the zeros and ones that comprise the stored information. If someone mentions an “optical” drive, they talk about a drive that uses CDs, DVDs, or Blu-ray disks. Sometimes these drives, if they are capable of recording CDs or DVDs, are called “burners” because, when recording a CD or DVD, the laser beam actually “burns” spots on a layer of a dye embedded in the disk, which the drive and computer can detect and interpret as zeroes and ones.

“Flash” drives, sometimes called jump drives, thumb drives, and USB drives, are also used to store digital files but use “solid-state” memory technology, rather than moving parts like motors and spinning disks. “Solid-state drives” (SSDs) use the same method, storing their information on digital integrated circuits (sometimes called “chips”) containing millions or billions of microscopic transistors, which act as switches. Whether in an “on” or “off” state, these switches are what store and process the zeroes and ones used by all computers.

Why are disk drives called drives?

As near as I can tell, in electrical engineering, a drive is an electronic device used to provide power to a motor. That’s the best reason I’ve been able to come up with, so I hope it will do. Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security, and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be you must already be familiar with data [data: information without context, for example, a list of students with serial numbers, is data.

When these figures represent the placement in a 100-meter race, the data becomes an information] and computer misuse [the data stored electronically is easier to access]; with software [software: a general term used to describe an application or program], which may not be reproduced without permission. The consequences lead to Software piracy [piracy: the acquisition, benefit from the use or making changes to copyright material without prior permission]; and hacking, and can lead to data corruption; accidental or deliberate.

Types of Computer Misuses

Misuse of computers and communication can be in different forms:


Hacking is when an unauthorized person uses a network [Network: A group of interconnected computers]and an Internet modem [modem: a piece of hardware that connects the computer to the Internet] to access security passwords other security data stored on another computer. Hackers sometimes use software hacking tools and often target some sites on the Internet. Their exploitation is not only limited to private networks but also government and corporate computer networks.

Misuse of data and unauthorized transfer or copy

Copying and illegally transferring data quickly and easily online using computers and large storage devices such as hard disk drives [HDD: a device used to store large volumes of data, on a hard disk], memory sticks [memory stick: a thumb-sized portable storage device mainly used for transferring files between computers] and DVDs [Digital Versatile Disc- used to store data, for example, a film]. Personal data, company research, and written work, such as novels and textbooks, cannot be reproduced without the copyright holder’s permission.