Hard Disk Tracks, Cylinders and Sectors

All information stored on a hard disk is recorded in tracks, which are concentric circles placed on the surface of each platter, much like the annual rings of a tree. The tracks are numbered, starting from zero, starting at the outside of the platter and increasing as you go in. A modern hard disk has tens of thousands of tracks on each platter.

5.25" hard disk platter
A platter from a 5.25″ hard disk, with 20 concentric tracks drawn
over the surface. Each track is divided into 16 imaginary sectors.

Data is accessed by moving the heads from the inner to the outer part of the disk, driven by the head actuator. This organization of data allows for easy access to any part of the disk, which is why disks are called random access storage devices.

Each track can hold many thousands of bytes of data. It would be wasteful to make a track the smallest unit of storage on the disk, since this would mean small files wasted a large amount of space. Therefore, each track is broken into smaller units called sectors. Each sector holds 512 bytes of user data, plus as many as a few dozen additional bytes used for internal drive control and for error detection and correction.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.

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About kc7txm

Matt Karls has a PhD in IT and is an Electrical Engineer. He works in management within the software development, IT and SEO fields and is the owner of Karls Technology. He has four kids and lives in the Phoenix metro area (when he is not travelling around to our different offices).

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