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Next Step in Personal Computing: Hard Drive-less Computers

Hard drive-less computers boot from external media or through network booting instead of an internal drive.


Vinyl records have evolved to iPods, typewriters became computers, and now, computers may be on the path to evolving past the need for hard drives. Tech companies have been discussing this possible shift in computing, and while it may be in the distant future at this point, it could change the average user’s computer experience tremendously.

What Is a Hard Drive-Less Computer?

Computers that are powered by hard drives are the standard type of model that consumers see today. This drive is used to locate data points that are stored on the platters of the drive and, in turn, open those files for accessibility. This hard disk drive acts as the main storage memory for the device. Since their initial implementation in computers in the mid-1950s, hard disk drives have diminished in size, but grown in capacity. 

While they are a reliable part of a desktop computer or laptop, a computer is able to boot without using a hard drive. In the case of hard drive-less computers, a user boots the device using an external hard drive, removable flash media, or in some cases is powered using network booting.

Effects of a Booting Sequence on Operability

The boot process on a computer includes several steps that happen sequentially to allow your desktop or laptop to become fully operational. The steps are as follows:

  • Once the device starts up, the CPU initializes by checking the status of Read-only Memory (ROM)
  • The instructions for booting your computer are stored in the ROM and are referred to as the BIOS. This is where the hardware is initialized.
  • Your computer will then conduct a power-on-self-test (POST) to ensure all of the operating systems and external devices are working properly.
  • Once all of the components are found to be working properly, the BIOS searches for an operating system to load. After this, the system can start up properly.

Booting without using a computer’s internal hard drive can be done through a variety of options like external media, in which case the computer will automatically boot from the device, or present the option to boot from a device. 

The other option is to implement network booting, which, according to Techwalla.com is increasingly common. Techwalla stated, “These systems are all controlled by a single server that simply virtualizes a desktop system on the remote machine. The advantage to network booting over local hard disk booting is that everything can be controlled on a single server, along with full redundant back-ups.”

What Does this Development Mean for the Industry?

One of Secure Data Recovery’s engineers, Jake Reznik, stated that in the case of network booting, everything is stored on the virtualization/server. There is still a bootable drive with minimum code to get the system up and running and connect to the network.

Though hard-drive less booting with a virtual server may offer greater ease-of-use, there are also several disadvantages to this type of booting. The most prominent risk is that if the server fails, then all computers are useless as they can’t boot. Severs consume large amounts of electricity and may not be worth the expensive cost if you don’t have a large number of computers in the system. 

Additionally, virtual servers can be difficult to manage without an administrator who has experience working with them. Without frequent security patches on these types of servers, hackers will find it much easier to expose a vulnerability. Data and files for a company that may be confidential, even among employees, are also stored on the same server without any separation.

While network booting has its positives and negatives, so does the traditional hard drive booting. Hard drives and other physical booting devices can wear over time and could fail, resulting in the need for data loss. Hard drive-less computers are still aways from becoming the norm in the world of computing, and in the meantime, Secure Data Recovery is still here to help retrieve your files from all media types and operating systems. Call 1-800-388-1266 to find out how we can save your data from a failed computer.

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