Make room for cluttered hard drives

January 29, 2001|By Mike Himowitz

Cleaning out your closets is always a good thing - especially if your closet is a crowded PC hard drive. Last week, we talked about ways to get rid of the accumulated digital garbage and improve your housekeeping.

But sometimes, cleaning isn't enough - you just have more important stuff than you have room for. So you have to build an addition - which means adding a second drive to your machine. There are two ways to go about it.

If your drive is full because you have too many digital photos or MP3 music files, there's no need to keep all these goodies on your main hard disk. You can solve your problem by adding a removable storage device, such as a rewritable CD drive, a Zip drive or an external hard disk.

When you need a photo or some other large document, you can always copy it back to your hard drive for editing. MP3s will play directly from almost any medium, so you don't need to transfer them back to your hard drive unless you want to use them to create an audio CD.

Of the three types of drives, a CD/RW drive provides the best combination of price, storage capacity and flexibility. A compact disk can store 640 megabytes worth of data, which amounts to more than 1,000 high-resolution photos or 160 digital tunes (your mileage may vary). You can also use a CD/RW to create custom audio CDs, which will make you a hero with the kids.

Internal CD/RW drives are cheaper ($180 to $250), faster and more reliable than external drives, which hook up to the USB ports of computers running Windows 98 or later. If you search hard enough, you can find an external model that will hook up to the parallel port of an older computer.

The downside of an internal drive is that you have to open the case to install it or pay a technician to do it for you. Most shops charge $50 to $80 for the job. For do-it-yourselfers, Hewlett Packard models come with excellent instructions, including a video (just remember to play it before you take your computer apart).

For large-scale permanent storage that doesn't require hardware tinkering, consider an external hard drive that plugs into the Universal Serial Bus port on the back of your computer. These gadgets are light and portable, so you can use them with more than one computer. While they're fine for storing files you don't use every day, the USB is too slow to make an external unit function as a regular hard drive, which has to provide quick access to programs and other critical data.

Apricorn's EZ Storage USB hard drives start at $270 for 6 gigabytes of space, while VST Technologies offers a variety of Blueberry hard drives that start at $180 for 4 gigabytes. Both companies offer models that will work with Windows PCs and Macs. For information, surf to or, respectively.

Iomega's Zip drive has long been popular for removable mass storage, but with a maximum capacity of 250 megabytes and disks that cost $9 to $12 each, the Zip is being eclipsed by the rewritable CD. Blank, write-once compact disks cost less than 50 cents each in bulk, while rewritable CDs cost only a dollar or two.

If removing files you don't use every day doesn't get you enough disk space - which often happens when you've installed a lot of software over the years - it might be time for a second hard drive.

Ten-gigabyte drives, which will more than double the storage of an older PC, are available for as little as $100, and for another $50 you can double that capacity.

Installing a second internal hard drive is more complicated than adding a CD/RW or external hard disk. Unless you feel confident tinkering with your computer, it's better to have your retailer's shop do the work. A knowledgeable technician can do the job in an hour or less. You can't.

One thing you'll have to decide is whether to make the new disk your primary or secondary drive. The primary drive, which always has the letter "C" (A and B are reserved for floppies), is the one that contains the operating system and the drive your system reads when it starts up.

While it's easier to add a new disk as the secondary drive, the overall speed of your disk system is dependent on the speed of the primary drive. A new drive is likely to be considerably faster than the old one, so if you want to take advantage of the improved technology, make the new disk primary.

This means you'll also have to install the operating system and most of your software on the new drive - a job that's easy to botch if you don't know your stuff. Once again, unless you're really comfortable with your PC, it's worth paying an expert to do the job.

Even then you might not be out of the woods unless you do some homework ahead of time. Windows has a nasty habit of mandating the letter assignments for its hard drives. The second hard drive will automatically assume the letter that comes after the first drive. So if your current hard drive is "C," the new one will be "D."

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