What to do when you outgrow your hard drive

19 Jan

The iMac contains everything, including hard drive, in the screen chassis, so repairs or upgrades should be performed by service technicians. (Geoff Meeker photo)

January 19, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

I often run into ‘techie’ types who, because I write this column, are quick to tell me about the latest advance in some technology or other.

Sometimes, I even understand what they’re talking about, and learn new and useful things.  This happened some time ago, when I ran into Peter Norman, the super-cool technology manager with NOIA.

I was complaining that the storage space in my Apple iMac was getting close to full.

“Hey, I just had a one terabyte hard drive installed in my Mac,” he said. “It’s simple and cheap. You should do the same.”

It was a revelation. I had never heard of a terabyte, which is one thousand gigabytes (gb). Nor was I aware that the hard drive in my iMac could be replaced so easily. It’s the trim, compact model, with the hard drive, speakers, CD/DVD drive – everything – contained in the screen chassis (which is just 1.5” thick). I knew a lot of it was solid state, and assumed that the hard drive was a semi-permanent fixture.

My iMac has a 250 gb hard drive, which seemed more than enough when I purchased it in 2005. Since then, I have acquired an 80 gb iPod, which, when full of music (via iTunes), will occupy one third of hard drive space. I have a Nikon D80 camera, which takes wonderful, high-resolution photos that eat up a lot of storage space. I also plan – I really do – to convert all my home movies, from VHS to digital, and edit them on my computer. And video files consume even more hard drive space than images and audio files.

At this rate, my computer would soon be bursting at the seams.

Yes, I know I can store files on an external drive. But I want to have them all together on my desktop, right at my fingertips, for one good reason: because I can. If there is a hard drive large enough to accommodate my foreseeable needs, I want that.

On Norman’s recommendation, I contacted Robert Williams of Avalon Software, on O’Leary Avenue – a dealer for both Mac and PC products – and learned that I can upgrade from 250 to 640 gb, for just $99, plus $79 for installation and copying of data from old hard drive to new. (I would have bought a terabyte, but 640 gb is the most my iMac can accommodate.)

If you own a PC, you probably know that changing out the hard drive is extremely easy. Unscrew and remove the cover, then out with the old and in with the new. Same with the mother boards, sound and video cards, and operating memory.  I’ve actually done a few installations on my children’s PC’s.

But the Mac is a different matter. On later models, there is no obvious way to open the case, and owners are advised not to attempt any repairs or alterations. That’s because they are compact, complex assemblies that don’t benefit from being poked and prodded by inexperienced hands.

I saw this for myself, by visiting the operating room during surgery. The interior of a typical PC tower looks like a half-filled warehouse, whereas the inside of a Mac resembles a tin of densely-packed, solid-state sardines.

Williams explained that Macs, on average, cost twice as much as PC’s with similar storage and processing capability. So what, I asked, makes them worth it?

“Mainly, they handle graphics much better than a PC,” Williams said. “You could have similar word processing and other programs on both, and you won’t see a difference. But

the Mac will run graphics programs much better… As well, there are no viruses or spyware, and Macs won’t break down.”

I agree completely, though some may challenge Williams on the ‘never breaking down’ part. And you always need a back-up plan. While it’s convenient to store everything on one drive, I still need to copy my data elsewhere, whether on web-based services – such as locally-owned datasentinel.com – or my own external drive.

“People have come in here with a crashed hard drive, containing photos of deceased relatives and other important files that they couldn’t replace,” Williams said. “It can cost thousands of dollars to recover data from a damaged drive, so it’s a good idea to back everything up.”

Which brings us back to the old, 250 gb drive. For $39, I can purchase an external bay to house it, creating a reliable back-up system. I just need to prioritize what gets saved, once my data load exceeds 250 gb’s.

Finally, some of you are wondering: does my computer run better, with all that extra space?

The answer is no – at least, not because of the hard drive itself. I just have more storage space to keep my stuff. What improves performance is operating memory, or RAM, which I did increase from 1.5 to 2 gb, the maximum my computer can take.

So, yeah, it’s a little better. Really, I just have peace of mind, knowing I can start tossing things with abandon into that lovely new walk-in closet. Let’s see how long until it takes to fill it up…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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