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.

Garmin GPS Repair (Archive)

Note: This article was transferred from my original blog.

So my first GPS is a little black and white unit, tiny but, useful. A Street Pilot i2. I got it for just under $200 on Walmart’s online store during a Black Friday sale. It worked for many years and was very useful, guiding me home or from here to there even when I was lost.

Unfortunately it eventually died. Well, kinda. I lent the GPS to a friend and the unit fell from their dashboard with the DC car charger plugged into the fragile mini-USB port on the GPS. The mini-USB port is what you find on most digital cameras, it’s tiny and pretty fragile – especially if thrown around. So after the GPS took it’s tumble the only way to use the device was to plug in two AA sized batteries. This wasn’t so ideal since the batteries would be eaten up quickly and the GPS would then die.

Without a car charger long trips with the GPS were impossible. Thankfully by this time I had already purchased a Garmin Nuvi 200, which has a built-in rechargeable battery and a healthy  and spry USB port.

So while sitting at my desk yesterday, procrastinating about other, more important things I should be doing. I started to look at my once-working GPS, I was quite fond of it so I started to wonder if I could get it to work again. Previously I had opened up the GPS and noticed some of the pins on the mini-USB were not exactly touching the main circuit board, which would of course cause the unit not to charge or connect to the computer.

My soldering skills are okay, but even so, the tiny connector would be a big pain to try and fix and I’d probably end up splashing solder across all the 5 tiny pins, ruining any hope of getting it to work. So I thought of an alternative. The battery terminal that holds two AA batteries has a black and red wire. Conveniently Garmin has each wire labeled Positive (+) and Negative (-). So I thought of a standard USB cable, which also has red and black wires!

So I grabbed an old USB cable that broke off of a USB mouse years ago, I hung onto the cable for just this occasion. I wrapped the red and black cables around their appropriate counterparts on the battery bay, making sure the metal made a good enough contact to test if my idea would work. I plugged in the USB port using a generic USB AC adapter, I didn’t want to plug it into a computer – fearing that if I shorted something out it would damage the USB port of the computer… this has happened before in the past. So needless to say I was wary… but, I plugged it in… and it worked!!

The next step was figuring out how to make a detachable port and cable setup, so I can plug in the USB adapter to power it when needed, but still use the batteries if I wanted to. So I looked around in my bin of spare cables and found an original XBox controller extension cord. Since the XBox controller cable is basically a modified USB cable it would be perfect, besides, I’d only need to use two of the connections of a USB cable for the power. I wasn’t worrying about data at this point.

The cable I used is a cheap Xbox cable, you can find one used at any EB Games or GameStop store for $0.99 to $1.99. So I wasn’t too sad to splice up the cable and use it as I pleased. I soldered it to the battery terminals and ran the cable to the right side of the GPS, instead of making a fancy slot for the cable to come out of I just shoved the end of the soldering iron into the side of the plastic case of the GPS, melting a hole for cable to come out of. Yes, very “professional” I know, but it was better then hacking away at the plastic with a pair of scissors. So now the female plug of the XBox controller extension cable is now coming out of the GPS, next I soldered the other end of the cable to a standard USB A type connector.

Now all I needed to do was plug the standard USB A connector into the car charger adapter, I got it off Monoprice.com for 97 cents! How can you beat that? it’s a generic USB charging adapter for the car. Next it was off to my car to test if everything worked out. I plugged in the USB cable, plugged the adapter into the cigarette outlet on the car and turned the key in the ignition to accessory. I pressed the power button on the GPS unit. The GPS beeped happily, turning on from a power source other then two batteries for the first time in years! It works great, and the power cable doesn’t interfere with the battery bay, meaning I can still use AA batteries if I had to. However I wouldn’t want to use both at the same time, that would probably damage something… or at least cause something to blow up and spark.

Anyway this was a successful and I hope this post may be helpful in the future to anyone who has a similar problem… yes that’s a bit far-fetched but you never know! 🙂