From the Kenosha News on 9-16-07

Use an external hard drive to boost your disk space

      Last week, I wrote about ways to clean your hard drive if it’s getting full.  This week, we’ll talk about external hard drives and devices to expand your storage capacity.

      If all you need is small amounts of portable, temporary storage, then a USB memory device – often called a RAM drive or flash drive – is an excellent choice.  Common sizes these days range from 512MB (equal to half a gigabyte) to 16GB, and prices range from about $15 up to nearly $200.  All of the recently manufactured “drives” should be labeled USB 2.0. 

      If you need a significant amount of space to store information more permanently, then an external hard drive is the way to go.  Here are some tips to selecting the one that’s right for you.

      The first thing to consider is the type of connection – USB or firewire.  Firewire is a faster connection than USB, which is especially helpful if you’re storing large files or doing large amounts of data transfer at once.  Not all computers have a firewire connection, so make sure yours does before you buy a firewire-only external drive.  If you have a Macintosh that’s relatively new (manufactured since 2003 or so), it will have firewire.  If you have a Windows computer such as a Dell or HP, you’ll want to look for the firewire connection in one of two ways.  First, look for it physically: it looks a little like a USB connection but has five sides – like a rectangle with two corners cut off.  It will be a little shorter than the USB jack but wider.  A second way to check for it is to go into your Network Connections control panel; look for an item labeled “1394.” 

      If you don’t have firewire, then a USB drive should work fine for you.  Many units come with both USB and firewire, which is a good option in case you upgrade to a computer that does have firewire or you want to transfer files to another computer that has firewire.

      The second thing to consider in an external hard drive is its compatibility with your operating system.  If you have a Mac, look for Mac-compatible drives; you may want to visit a Mac-specific web site such as MacMall.com. 

      The third thing to look for is the size of the drive.  Common drive sizes range from 80GB to 1TB (TB stands for terabyte, which is 1,000 gigabytes.)  Try to pay less than 50 cents per gigabyte.  The “sweet spot” in pricing appears to be for a 500GB drive.

      Finally, consider the brand of the drive.  Despite the wide array of external hard drive brands, the actual hard drive inside is probably manufactured by one of just a few manufacturers:  Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, or Quantum.  LaCie is a very reputable brand and especially popular for Mac users.  Some web sites, including bestbuy.com, circuitcity.com and newegg.com, include ratings and reviews of various products.

      Remember that your programs will not automatically save files to an external storage device, so if your main hard drive (C:) is getting full, you need to move the documents to that location manually.

by Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 9-16-07