Data, like closet junk, expands to fill available space. Whether it's e-mail, video presentations or the day-to-day documents of a flourishing business, files have a way of colonizing your hard disk with disturbing speed.
Fortunately, as the volume of data has increased, so has the capacity of hard drives. From the top-of-the-line 250-gigabyte drives of a scant year or two ago, today we've entered into terabyte territory.
A terabyte, for the arithmetically challenged, is 1,000 gigabytes. A one-terabyte drive will hold about 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica, or more than 100 full-length DVD-quality movies.
Newer computers come with drives with as much as two terabytes of space. But if yours isn't new, you have a few options if you need digital real estate. So let's take a look at some of the new, high-capacity drives on the market.
First are the choices: you can add a second drive to your desktop, or swap the primary drive in your desktop or laptop for a bigger one, or use an external drive.
With the advent of the USB 3.0 port, which provides almost 10 times the throughput, big files on external drives can now be accessed at decent speeds. USB 3.0 usually requires an add-on card in your computer - the ports are not standard in any but the newest of the new - but it's worth the price if your computer supports it.
But if you choose to swap out your computer's primary drive, Seagate's 1 terabyte internal model spins at 7,200-rpm, which aids in data retrieval. The Western Digital Caviar Green 1 terabyte drive claims to reduce power consumption by up to 40 per cent compared to standard desktop drives. Seagate offers a five year warranty, while Western Digital's is three years. Prices for 1 terabyte drives start at $120 and up.
If 1 terabyte isn't enough, drives are available with up to 3 terabytes. But do make sure your computer's hardware and operating system can cope. The 32-bit version of Windows 7, for instance, can't use more than a 2 terabyte drive as its main drive.
Laptop hard drives can also be upgraded; again, check with your tech support to make sure your choice is compatible with your machine. A 1 terabyte Western Digital Scorpio Blue laptop drive is similarly priced, at about $110, to the company's desktop version.
Your options continue to grow with the drives mechanics. Seagate's 500 gigabyte Momentus XT is a solid-state hybrid drive. The twist is that, while it's not as big as some, it has 4 gigabytes of solid state memory on top of the mechanical hard drive. This lets you boot in seconds rather than minutes. It's more expensive than a standard mechanical-only drive (Staples lists it at $175), but if fast boot and brisk performance are important to you, it may be worth the money.
But if you don't want to replace an internal drive, or add a secondary one, external drives, connected to the computer via USB, are a more practical solution. They are good for backing up, or when you want extra storage on a laptop. USB 3.0 is the preferred interface, and USB 2.0 will do the job, but don't even consider connecting a hard disk via USB 1.1 - you'll die of old age waiting for your files to open or copy.
External drives are also useful as network attached storage. For example, Western Digital's My Book Live 2 terabyte external drive ($200 at Best Buy) plugs directly into your network and becomes accessible to Macs, as well as PCs running Windows XP or higher. It includes iTunes server support and a media server for streaming music and video across your network. The standalone version of the drive ($130 at Best Buy) offers both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 support, and comes with software providing automated continuous backup of the connected computer. The drives have two year warranties.
Clickfree drives are meant purely for backup. The Clickfree 1 terabyte USB 3.0 C2 Desktop Hard Drive (about $140) will automatically back up any computer it's plugged into. The Clickfree 2 terabyte USB 3.0 C2N Desktop Network Hard Drive ($210 at Staples) ups the ante by automatically backing up every computer on its network, just the thing for busy small businesses, Clickfree drives have three year warranties.
Desktop external drives can be bulky, but mobile users have portable options. Since they're much smaller, they don't necessarily offer the capacity or performance of desktop models, but they're still more than adequate for most purposes. For example, the Iomega eGO 500 gigabyte portable drive offers USB 3.0 support, draws its power from the computer's USB port, and weighs less than a pound. The warranty, however, is just one year. Western Digital's USB 2.0 1 terabyte portable drive is also powered through the USB cable, weighs less than half a pound, and has a one year warranty.