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.

Telling the difference between a Mac OS X Restore Disc and a Retail Install Disc (Archive)

Note: This article was transferred from my original blog.

A lot more people have Macs today, which leads to a lot more people with a lot more questions. One frequent mix-up comes when a user needs to re-install Mac OS X or when someone wants to upgrade their copy of Mac OS X. Either they lose their discs or they decide to use one from a friend and they discover it just doesn’t work. They wonder why, that’s because not all discs will work with all Macs.

This happens because there are two common types of Mac OS X install discs. Three if you want to be specific. The first type is a Restore disc. These are gray-covered discs that come with your Mac when you buy it new. Usually there are two DVDs included, one has the Mac OS X software and the other has additional programs such as iLife. These discs will only work with that specific Mac model it was included with. For example a restore disc that came bundled with a MacBook will not work on an iMac. Or even a newer (2008) or older (2006) MacBook restore disc, may not work with your 2007 MacBook model.

The second type of a install disc is a Retail Install Disc. This is the type of disc you will buy from Apple. This is a full install disc and will work on any Mac that supports the minimum system requirements. It will install on an iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro, Mac Mini, etc. This version however does not include some bundled software that originally would of came with your Mac, such as iLife and some additional applications.

The third type of install disc is a variant of the Retail Install Disc, this is a Retail Upgrade Disc. These discs are usually received through Apple’s Up-To-Date program. You would receive this disc if you bought a Mac with the older software pre-installed on the system right after Apple has started shipping a newer version. For example if Mac OS X 10.5 came installed on your iMac and Apple released Mac OS X 10.6 a few days earlier, your iMac gets an upgrade. There may be a small charge to receive the updated discs. These discs will only install if it detects the older version of Mac OS X installed. For example it will not work on a Mac with no version of Mac OS X installed, or a version older then the previous version.

This can sound a bit confusing, but there is a simple way to tell the discs apart. A Restore disc has a gray cover and will say the model of the Mac it is for on the front along with a version number and a date. A Retail install disc will have a pretty graphic on the front and not mention a model such as iMac or MacBook. A Retail upgrade disc will look very similar to the Retail install disc, but it may say “CPU Drop-in DVD”, “Upgrade Disc” or “Update Disc” on it. This signifies that the install disc will check for a previous (and existing) installation of Mac OS X before it can install the updated version of the software, and will not work on a Mac that has no software on it.

So if you bought a new hard drive for your Mac and it’s blank, you will need a Retail install disc or the appropriate Restore disc for your Mac. An Upgrade disc will not work in this situation. Above is a graphic showing the difference between a restore disc and a retail install disc. I hope this helps with some confusion about the different Mac OS X install discs. Happy installing!!