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Cheap Storage Solutions
Originally published on Suite101.com 

Easily and quickly expand the file capacity of any desktop or laptop computer system in minutes by installing addtional storage without using any tools.

With the price of hard drives dropping to record lows, there has never been a better time to add some additional capacity to desktop and laptop computers. One easy and inexpensive storage solution that works with nearly any computer is an external USB hard drive. With capacities ranging from under 100 Gigabytes to 2 Terabytes or more these drives offer immediate expansion and are simple to install right out of the box.


Cost per Gigabyte

When shopping for a drive it is important to do a little math and see which drive offers the most capacity for the money. To do this sort of comparison simply take the cost of the hard drive and divide it by the number of Gigabytes to see what the cost per Gigabyte comes to. (Note that a Terabyte is roughly one thousand Gigabytes for this purpose.)


For instance a 320 Gigabyte drive that sells for $89.99 figures out to be approximately $ 0.28 per Gigabyte ($89.990 / 320 = .2812), while a 2 Terabyte drive that sells for $189.99 is less than $ 0.10 per Gigabyte ($189.99 / 2000 = .095) making it a much better deal. In his article What is the Best External Hard Drive to Buy? author Chad Criswell offers more comparisons and ideas to help decide.


The cost per Gigabyte is not the only comparison to be made when it comes to shopping for an external USB hard drive. Another important factor is the warranty period and the terms of exchange in case of a failure. While unlikely to happen on average it is still important to be prepared for the worst case scenario of a defective unit being shipped by purchasing units with longer warranties when all other factors are equal.


Some drives are sold with a one year warranty while other drives of the same capacity sell at the same price with a five year warranty. A typical warranty for Seagate products is five years, while Toshiba often offers their drives with a three year warranty and Western Digital only has a two year warranty.


Integrated Drives or Enclosures?Most of the external hard drives sold are integrated drives, which means that they come with a hard drive sealed in a self-contained unit that plugs into the computer and usually into a wall outlet for AC power. Also available are drive enclosures that do not come with any hard drive at all, but instead require that a standard hard drive be installed.


This allows future expansion by replacing the hard drive as well as the ability to keep a library of different drives available and swap a particular one in as needed. With the prices of internal hard drives normally lower than that of external hard drives this is becoming a popular option, but it does require the use of a screwdriver and slightly more handling of the delicate hard drive.


USB 2.0 Speed

Most modern computers have several USB 2.0 ports located on the front and rear for convenient access. Some older computers have both USB 2.0 and earlier standards such as USB 1.1, which is a much slower port. When possible the external USB hard drives should always be plugged into a USB 2.0 (or higher) port, and most operating systems will give a warning if the drive is plugged into a slower port.


While the drive will still function perfectly in either style of connection it will be much faster when running at USB 2.0 speeds. It is also best to plug the drive directly into the ports on the rear of the computer when possible and to avoid using any USB hubs which can slow down access by sharing the resource with other devices on the same port.


Plug and Play

When unpacked and plugged into a power source and a USB port the drive will normally automatically configure itself to be recognized by most operating systems. Integrated drives will usually come preformatted and often include software that can help to manage the drive.


This software is optional in most cases but usually allows faster access and is sometimes required to facilitate such features as one-touch backups. Follow the on-screen prompts or the written instructions that come with the drive for the proper installation of these programs.


Enclosures that have brand new drives in them will have to be manually formatted after installation by using the disk management category of the administrative tools (for Windows systems) or a similar utility for other operating systems. Multiple partitions can be created and each one can be a different size and have a different drive letter associated with it. For this reason it is often best to stick with the integrated drive unless the user has some familiarity with these types of operations.


Files Keep Getting Bigger

As digital cameras and video cameras keep improving in resolution they keep taking bigger pictures that require more storage space. New software also uses more space than ever before for basic installation as well as document storage. By swapping in external hard drives as needed there is virtually no limit to the amount of data that can be stored on a single computer.


As computers get older they accumulate more data which becomes more valuable over time. At the same time the hard drive ages and becomes more likely to crash, creating the potential for a serious problem unless the data is backed up.


With an external USB hard drive there is plenty of room to perform backups on multiple computers or to store data for easy retrieval. These drives can even be transferred from one computer to another by simply unplugging them and moving them, normally done when the power is off on both machines or after using the safely remove hardware feature of Windows.

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