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On a movable-head system, the time it takes to position the head at the track is known as seek time. Once the track is selected, the disk controller waits until the appropriate sector rotates to line up with the head. The time it takes for the beginning of the sector to reach the head is known as rotational delay. The sum of the seek time, if any, and the rotational delay equals the access time, which is the time it takes to get into position to read or write. Once the head is in position, the read or write operation is then performed as the sector moves under the head; this is the data transfer portion of the operation and the time for the transfer is the transfer time.

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