External Hard Drives and Backing Up

Hard Drives are great, sure they may crash or die if you get the bad egg in the batch, but our computers rely on them in one form or another. Without a hard drive you’d have no place but floppy disks to store your data. Be it solid-state flash drives or the older spinny type Hard Drives are a staple of the computer itself. It’s surprising how much data we accumulate these days. Of course with the internet it’s crazy how much information you end up storing, sharing, and creating. Years and years ago I remember being perfectly happy with a 10GB internal hard drive in my iBook laptop. Eventually that required me to get an 80GB external drive due to me starting to play with digital video cameras. Now my MacBook laptop has a 320GB internal drive and an external at least that big to use as a backup.

These days it’s all about Terabytes! (That’s 1,000GB) You can easily get a 1TB hard drive for under $90. That’s a lot of storage space, even for me, the man who has too many external drives to count.

So why all this space? Well we simply consume a lot of data and if you’d want to save anything you’ll need some space. Let’s break it down a bit to compare some sizes. 1MB is a little less then the space a Floppy Disk can hold, they can hold 1.4MB – most digital cameras take photos that are about 1-2MB per photo! 700MB is the maximum amount of data a CD can hold. 4.7GB or 4,700MB is the maximum size a DVD can hold. 1,000GB is 1TB, which is a lot of space for just about anything!

Now you have a hard drive in your computer right now, and you may think of getting another. Maybe it’s to backup your files, store huge videos, or just move your music collection to a place where it can grow. Now unless you have a desktop tower you probably don’t have a spot to add another hard drive. Sure you can upgrade your existing drive, but storage is so cheap it pays to hang onto the old one.

External hard drives are cheap as well, although you can save money often if you buy the drive and enclosure separate, unless you find a good deal. How does this work? Well hard drives are created with connectors, these are made to be connected internally to your computer. However external enclosures convert these connectors to the type found on the outside of your computer, such as USB, FireWire, or even eSATA.

For example you can buy a Western Digital Green 1TB drive for about $90 (bare internal drive with no case), then buy an external USB 2.0 SATA case for about $30. Making the once internal-only drive to a portable external storage vault. Bringing the total to about $120 for an external hard drive solution. However… if you browse to Newegg.com’s refurbished section you’ll find a 1TB USB 2.0 MyBook external drive ready to go for under $125. It’s your choice, but if you’re all about connectivity and speed it may be best to make your own external solution, unless you like to pay an arm and a leg for FireWire support.

Most of the hard drive enclosures out there offer USB 2.0 as a standard. If you’re like me you’d want a FireWire 400 port (at least). Unfortunately  most cases don’t include FireWire, you can purchase a FireWire/USB/eSATA combo enclosure for about $38. If you’re picky about your inputs then it’s well worth it. After all FireWire is much faster then USB, especially when moving loads of data, and FireWire 800? Well that’s even quicker.

External Hard Drives  are quicker then USB flash drives, much quicker, and can hold a lot more storage. They’re better for backups since they’re quicker and can even be used to boot up a copy of your operating system… unless you’re running Windows.

So what’s the point of this post? Nothing really.

Maybe it’s to remind you that storage is cheap and that you should backup your precious files and documents. Once your photos or videos disappear to a hardware failure it’s already too late… ALL HARD DRIVES EVENTUALLY DIE. I can’t stress that enough. I once bought a 200GB hard drive, less then 6 months later it died, along with all my “backup” data. Apple’s Macs all have an excellent built-in backup feature called Time Machine. As long as you have Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” or later you’re covered, just plug in a blank external drive and all the work is done for you!

But you don’t even need software to do it for you, sure it’s easier and convenient, but even backing up an important folder of documents to a flash drive is a good idea. Don’t forget CD or DVD burners! You can easily store 700MB to 4.4GB to a disc for safe keeping. That’s an easy way to backup all those family photos you can’t replace. Send copies to friends and relatives while you’re at it.

Or it might be to inform you that you’re not bounded to the size of your disk that’s inside of your computer. After all expanding your storage options is best done externally – the sky is the limit. As long as you have long enough cables.

Apple’s MacBook Pro DVI to Video adapter is Mac Only

So my younger brother has a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, one of the earlier models. Anyway for a while he wanted Apple’s DVI to Composite/S-Video adapter. This year he put it on his Christmas list but, he still ended up without it. But a few weeks ago I was at MicroCenter and saw one as an open-box return. So I picked it up for him at about $5 off and he was very happy about it. It worked great with his Mac, allowing him to hook up his Mac to be displayed on the old TV in his dorm.

Now this made me wonder, can I use this on my PC? I have an Intel Quad Core PC with dual ATI 4670 graphics cards. The only thing I dislike about them is that the only port on them is DVI. There is no option for S-Video or Composite output, although I can hook the PC up to my TV via an HDMI to DVI cable I have. But I would like the option for S-Video out. Why? Besides the fact that I have a little obsession with S-Video, the main reason is that my DVD Recorder has S-Video input, therefore if I want to record what is on the screen on my PC I can do so. I do this with my Mac – it’s great for recording live streaming video events, or difficult to capture videos that are online in a pinch.

So I plugged in the adapter to the PC and ran a composite video cable to the TV set… what I got wasn’t pretty. Just a few black and gray bars. It seems that this adapter may as well be Mac-only. This was disappointing. I tried many different resolutions and video modes, but the adapter failed to display anything but some black and gray bars. So I suppose this adapter is only made for MacBook Pro machines. It may have to do with the type of DVI connector, if Apple’s MacBook Pro has a certain pins dedicated to TV-compatible video out – that would explain the issue. But, for now I’m stuck with using an old VGA to Composite/S-Video adapter I picked up at last year’s Trenton Computer Festival last year. The only bad thing is it needs a big power brick and it can be kind of bulky. No where as nice as a simple adapter. Oh well. Who knows, maybe the adapter just didn’t like my PC’s graphics card. Maybe it’s compatible with other graphics cards or adapters? I might try to see if I get any signal from my iMac. If I try a Mini-DVI to DVI adapter and then attache the Composite/S-Video adapter to that… although I doubt that’ll work. (Update: No, that does not work, it formats the screen for a TV but the output doesn’t seem to send a proper signal) Plus it’s useless considering I have a Mini-DVI to Composite/S-Video adapter. Oh well! It was worth a try. 😛