Let's look at the big differences between cassette tapes and hard disks:
- The magnetic recording material on a cassette tape is coated onto a thin plastic strip. In a hard disk, the magnetic recording material is layered onto a high-precision aluminum or glass disk. The hard-disk platter is then polished to mirror-type smoothness.
- With a tape, you have to fast-forward or reverse to get to any particular point on the tape. This can take several minutes with a long tape. On a hard disk, you can move to any point on the surface of the disk almost instantly.
- In a cassette-tape deck, the read/write head touches the tape directly. In a hard disk, the read/write head "flies" over the disk, never actually touching it.
- The tape in a cassette-tape deck moves over the head at about 2 inches (about 5.08 cm) per second. A hard-disk platter can spin underneath its head at speeds up to 3,000 inches per second (about 170 mph or 272 kph)!
- The information on a hard disk is stored in extremely small magnetic domains compared to a cassette tape's. The size of these domains is made possible by the precision of the platter and the speed of the medium.
Because of these differences, a modern hard disk is able to store an amazing amount of information in a small space. A hard disk can also access any of its information in a fraction of a second.