Businessweek Archives

Hard Up For Space On Your Hard Drive?


Special Report: ANNUAL GUIDE TO COMPUTERS: Storage

HARD UP FOR SPACE ON YOUR HARD DRIVE?

Figuring out your personal computer's data storage needs used to be easy: Buy the biggest hard-disk drive that you can afford. That's still very good advice, but it's not enough anymore. Rapid advances in storage capacity and space-hogging software have made it tough to determine just how big to buy. Moreover, a dizzying array of new storage devices has exploded onto the market.

So how big is big enough? The average hard drive--the central repository for all your programs and data--on a new PC stores about 850 million bytes of data. But once you install Windows 95 and associated applications, a few games, and surf the Internet, you'll want at least a gigabyte drive--a billion bytes. Besides, at less than $250, they're a steal. And you may need drives that store 1.6 gig (starting at $450) or 2 gig ($700 and up) if you're a program pack rat.

TRY CHEATING. Although a lot of cheaper PCs still use hard drives with older technology, seek out new models with the latest data interfaces that allow higher access speeds. For IBM-style PCs, drives should use one of two nearly identical interface standards: Fast ATA (for Advanced Technology Attachment) and Enhanced IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics).

If you're strapped for cash, you can always cheat: Compression software, costing less than $100, scrunches data to give you up to twice the disk space. Programs range from shareware such as PKZIP, which compresses little-used data into archives, to commercial packages such as Stac Electronics' Stacker. But if you're using Windows 95, Microsoft Corp.'s new DriveSpace3 is especially nifty.

CD-ROM drives, a staple on today's consumer PCs, are a must for multimedia and today's huge programs. Get the dealer to install one, though--it can be a configuration nightmare. Go for a quad-speed drive--which spins four times as fast as the original CD-ROM players and offers smoother video on new games. But six-speed drives are still too pricey, and few programs tap that speed yet.

With so much critical data on a hard disk that spins 5,000 times a minute, it's wise to make frequent backups. But floppy disks won't do: Even a 300-meg hard drive would take 200 floppies and several hours to back up. That's why special backup drives are becoming de rigeur. If you're on a budget, tape drives are the cheapest--as low as $100 to store hundreds of megabytes on one $15 cartridge. Look for drives that use the quarter-inch cartridge (QIC) or Travan standards. Main problem: Tape drives can be agonizingly slow.

The hottest backup choice is a new generation of removable drives that are cheap, fast, and convenient. Iomega Corp.'s $200 Zip drive stores 100 megabytes--70 times more than a standard floppy disk--on a single $20 disk. SyQuest Technology Inc.'s similarly priced EZ135, which uses 135-megabyte disks, is faster than the Zip. But the Zip's software is easier to use. Whichever you choose, "They're just like a super-floppy," says Dataquest Inc. analyst Rod Watkins.

More choices are coming: A 120-megabyte mega-floppy drive from 3M, Compaq Computer, and Matsushita that can also read current floppy disks is expected to be introduced by yearend. Higher-capacity backup drives--such as Iomega's $500 Jaz drive, which will store a gigabyte on a single $100 cartridge--will also debut this year. But the new writeable CDs, which store 650-megabytes on a single disk, currently cost $800 to more than $2,000--too much for most consumers. And PC memory cards, which store data on memory chips instead of rotating disks, can be handy for laptops. But at $10 per megabyte--40 times as much as hard drives--they're a luxury, too.

With Intel Corp. dropping chip prices fast, it's tempting to spend all your computing budget on the latest Pentium. But with programs getting piggier, buying hard-drive space will give you more byte for your bucks than ever before.

PC STORAGE OPTIONS

HARD-DISK DRIVE

The PC's central repository. Stores all data and programs on sealed metal platters.

CD-ROM DRIVE

Plays compact disks storing large programs and graphics. A must for multimedia.

TAPE BACKUP DRIVE

Mirrors data on the hard drive in case it crashes. Near-essential for jumbo drives.

REMOVABLE BACKUP DRIVE

Faster, more flexible alternative to a tape drive. Also more expensive.

MEMORY CARD

A business-card-size memory pack for laptops that uses less power than disk drives.

COMPRESSION SOFTWARE

Shrinks and expands data, allowing you to cheaply fit more on a hard disk.Robert Hof


The Good Business Issue
LIMITED-TIME OFFER SUBSCRIBE NOW
 
blog comments powered by Disqus