Whatever happened to …

… disk activity lights?

If you’re reading this post on your phone, a MacBook, or a Chromebook or even a modern personal computer, you may not have even noticed but those of us long in the computer tooth will remember.

A few years ago, all Windows/Linux PCs had a disk activity light. It let you know when your computer was reading or writing to the hard drive. Particularly with Windows, there really was no point of asking the computer to do anything until the light had stopped flashing/flickering.

Or, if you were working and all of a sudden your keyboard or mouse was unresponsive, you’d look at the disk activity light and saw it flashing which was an indicator that it had better things to do than work with you.

Every now and again, I’ll indulge myself with a stroll through a computer store and, on my last tour, noticed that none of the Windows laptop computers had activity lights.

Now, I didn’t do an exhaustive check of every computer (I wasn’t alone and academic things like this are waste of time for her…) but I did look at some Microsoft, Dell, Acer, and some Asus PCs. Nothing flickering in sight although they all had a promotional slideshow running which should have generated lots of disk activity.

Never the less, it was always a good indicator of how your computer was working.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • I’m a Macintosh, Chromebook user and life is just supposed to be this way?
  • Other than monitoring Windows, did anyone really care about this feature?
  • Was it a hangover from desktop PCs?
  • Are today’s hard drives and solid state drives so fast that it’s really not needed?
  • Did someone have a stroke from looking at it flashing and so it was decided to be a health hazard?
  • Was it a feature that a manufacturer could save some money on during production?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic. I should point out that there are various pieces of software that you can download and run on your computer to indicate disk activity if you miss it!

Please respond in the comments below.

Posts like this are a regular Sunday thing about here. You can read about all of them here.

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If you read it anywhere else, it’s not original.

9 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I think that a modern SSD is so fast that the lights are not needed. Also in the old solid state drives when the CPU was doing multiple jobs the arm would be travelling all over the platters as non consecutive blocks of data were read, this would cause an onlight (and much clunking from within the machine). An SSD can read data from any sector at the same speed, in fact the TRIM will actually fragment the SSD to facilitate wear levelling. Obvs the second factor is saving money. The LED and wiring would put just pence on the cost of making the machine, but pence which can be saved, therefore the economic imperative would be to leave it out if users don’t miss it (apart from you!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice summary, Matthew. Your comment about money reminds me of the old saying “a penny here, a penny there”. When you’re making thousands of units, they would add up.


  3. They have vanished from desktop PCs although they still exist in abundance in data-centres, step into one and you’re faced with rack after rack of flashing lights in disk shelves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Aviva, I think I’d be more worried about everything on the screen and the audio than a small flashing light! With my old Sony Vaio, I actually had to position myself to see it. I’ve often wondered whether that was good engineering or dumb luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s true, but flashing lights always get me. When I know that they’re there, I’m drawn to them. This may just be an “Aviva problem.” 🙂



  6. I used to live by those lights. An before PCs many more lights. And sounds. Disk drives used to make sounds as the head moved back and forth.

    There was a time we also had toggle switches and used with lights we could program computers in Binary assembly language. I sort of miss those days.

    Liked by 1 person

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