Tag Archives: Computer memory

Backing up hard to do, but worth it

This is an edited version of my weekly column for Loose Wire Service, a service providing print publications with technology writing designed for the general reader. Email me if you’re interested in learning more.

Sometimes it takes something like an earthquake to realize that you’re vulnerable.

Once the ground stops shaking and you’ve begun to sense that your life — and those of your loved one(s) — are not in imminent danger, your thoughts turn to the next most important thing in your world: Your data.

Well, of course, that may not be your exact train of thought, but it’s the general direction. So much of our lives are digital these days — e-mails, music, photos, social lives — the first thing we tend to clutch when we’re in trouble is our cell phone/laptop/external disk drive.

Or at least it should be. So what should you prepare for when things go wrong and you need to evacuate, pronto?

Here, in brief, is how to do it:

Whatever can be online, should be. E-mails, for example, should be on something like Google’s Gmail (or Yahoo!, who have launched a new e-mail service that’s at least as generous in terms of storage as Google’s.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t also keep your e-mails on your own computer, but make sure they are also online. Get in the habit of e-mailing important documents to yourself, as well, so you’ve got an extra copy online.

This means you can evacuate in a relaxed state of mind. Well, as relaxed as you can be fleeing a building that is burning/falling/swaying/no longer strictly speaking a building.

Same goes with photos: Get in the habit of uploading your favorite photos to an online photo album service like Flickr (www.flickr.com), because if there’s one thing you don’t want to lose it’s family snaps.

Sign up for the Pro edition if you’ve got the cash and a fast(ish) Internet connection, since at US$25 a year for unlimited storage it’s a reasonably cheap way of backing up.

Add photos incrementally: Just get into the habit of uploading photos to your Flickr account when you upload them from your camera/cellphone to the computer (I’m assuming you do this; you do do this, right?)

Of course, online options are only good if you’re online. And, tellingly, I’m not right now because there’s a problem with the Internet — and quite a big problem, since even my trusty backup connection is down — so you shouldn’t rely exclusively on connectivity.

(The other problem is that as more of us go digital, we can’t hope to store everything online, because there’s so much of it. Our iPods store 60 GB or more these days, which is still impractical to back up online.)

In which case you need to have a hard drive backup. There are several ways of doing this, but here’s the best one: Back up everything on all the PCs and laptops in your house to one big external drive the size of hardback book, which you can then grab as you exit the building in an orderly manner.

Here’s how to do that:

Maxtor offer a pretty reasonable range of backup hard drives — the cheapest are really just hard drives in a plastic casing (good to prevent damage: hard drives are not as tough as they pretend to be.)

Expect a whopping 500 gigabyte drive to cost you less than $200. Attach the drive to a USB port and you’ve now got a seriously large drive attached to your computer.

Then buy a program called Acronis True Image ($50 from here) and make a backup image of all the computers in your house.

(An image is a sort of snapshot of your computer. It’s faster than backing up individual files, but will still allow you to restore individual files or folders if you need to.)

It’s a little tricky to set up but you’ll get the hang of it, since you’re going to be backing up once a week. (Yes, you are.)

If you think this is too much for you and that the only data you really need to save are a few documents, then get a USB flash drive (those little sticks you can put on a key ring.)

Prices have fallen to the point where they’re a cheap option now for up to four gigabytes. I would recommend the SanDisk Cruzer micro, not only because they don’t have removable caps (which always get lost) but because they include software that make backing up important files easy. (Stick the drive in a USB slot and follow the instructions.)

A word of warning: Think hard about what data you’ve got and what you want to save. It’s easy to forget stuff hidden in an obscure folder.

Get into the habit of saving important files — whether they’re attachments, photos, spreadsheets or whatever — into the same folder. It’ll make finding them to back them up much easier and quicker.

Oh, and try not to wait until the building is swaying/filled with smoke/has moved down the street before actually doing the backing up.

Trust me: You can’t count on thinking as clearly as you might expect.

The Jakarta Post – The Journal of Indonesia Today

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Drive Safely

This is probably the way to go with USB drives — security features that the user has to follow, or else the device won’t work.  Verbatim’s new Store ‘n’ Go Corporate Secure USB Drives’

mandatory security features safeguard all device contents with a complex password. Hack resistant feature locks down device after 10 failed logon attempts, protecting your data from dictionary or brute force hack attempts.

Of course, Verbatim are aiming this at corporate and government types, but I’d be interested to see this kind of thing used by ordinary folk too, perhaps as part of a handshake between host computer and USB drive. Internet cafes, public terminals at airports etc could encourage users to plug in their drives (as opposed to either blocking the ports or hiding them) so long as they have certain security features in place to prevent transmission of viruses, sending of spam or botnet controlling, or whatever bad people do at public computers.

8 GB Is the New 8 MB

At what point do USB flash drives replace iPods, external hard drives or laptops? M-Systems has announced the 8GB DiskOnKey USB drive and promises a 128 GB version by the end of the decade.

AS EverythingUSB comments:

their announcement reminds us how far they’ve the NAND industry has come. In 2000, the Israeli-company brought us a 8MB flash drive; now, a little over 5 years later, we’re getting a 8GB – 1000 times the capacity of the original DOK.

That’s pretty amazing. Of course by 2010 we will be expecting much larger capacities to carry our vast collections of HD videos around on. By then 128 GB won’t sound like much at all.

Say Goodbye To The USB Flash Drive?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Trek 2000’s chief financial officer, Gurcharan Singh. Trek, a Singapore company, claim to be the originators of the USB drive, or thumb drive as they call it, and are currently sueing a company called M-Systems in a test case over who owns the patent for putting flash memory on a USB plug.

That’s all going through the courts, and has been for some time, but clearly Trek 2000 are playing a central role in the whole flash-drive-on-a-stick thing, since besides selling their own products, they are the OEM manufacturers of several dozen such USB drives, including folk like iomega. But what intrigued me, among several things, was a gadget he had in his display case that he hinted was the future of USB drives. I had asked him about concerns over the durability and reliability of flash memory (my own experience making me less than sanguine) and while he was careful not to play up such concerns, he pointed to a device that was barely larger than a USB drive, but which contained a 0.85 inch 10 gigabyte hard drive, manufactured by one of Trek 2000’s main strategic partners, Toshiba. “This will address the issues of flash that you’re talking about,” he said. At the moment flash drives get no larger than a 2 gigabytes.

Toshiba has promised to lauch the 0.85” drive early this year, according to The Register, who point out that these drives are about 80% smaller than the hard drives you’ll find in an iPod or similar device. If Gurcharan is correct it sounds like these hard drives will have a larger capacity than earlier expected and they’re likely to be as popular, if not more so, than the USB flash drive.

So will this cause a splash? Yes, I think, because they’re so small. They’ll wow us and make us do a lot more with our USB stick. Not that there aren’t options beyond flash out there already. Of a similar ilk, but using the older, larger drives, take a look at Sony’s new 2.0 GB Micro Vault Pro, which I saw in Singapore’s malls for about S$450 ($275, see illustration) or Z-Cyber’s 1 or 2 GB Zling Drives, which I’m guessing use the same hard drives, but seem to sell for a lot less: I saw the 2 GB version selling for S$200, and the 1 GB for S$129. Then there’s the Emprex range of Micro Storage, from 2.2 to 4.0 GB, selling for S$190 and S$275 respectively. All of these are basically small hard drives on a USB dongle. They’re nice, but they’re not nearly as small as what Trek 2000 are likely to unveil some time this year.  

(If you’re looking for larger storage you’ll have to go to iomega’s Mini Hard Drives, which come in 20GB and 40GB capacities. )

What I think we’re going to see are these microdrives really pushing out flash as folk come to rely on them more and more. It’s yet to be proven that these very small hard drives are as rugged as they claim to be, but I think we’re safe in saying that flash, while excellent, is not reliable enough to be anything other than a short-term means of storage. What’s more, with bigger capacities, micro drives are going to be able to do things, and go places, that flash drives just can’t do: Storing whole feature-length movies, an evening full of musical entertainment on a key-ring, a cellphone that doubles as your hard drive. There’ll be a role to play for USB flash but we may soon be looking back nostalgically at these devices as charmingly limited in what they could do for us.

This week’s column – Visualizing Tools

This week’s Loose Wire column takes a look at programs that visualize your hard disk.

ONE OF THE CRAZY THINGS about computers is that the more we use them, the more of a mystery they become. Think of all the things you’ve done with your computer: reading and writing e-mail, browsing Web sites, downloading (and making) music, editing and watching video, storing photos. All these things take up valuable space, but are impossible to find without a team of forensic experts to help. In short, finding what’s valuable and what’s not is easier in your loft, basement, garage or den than on your own hard disk.

That’s the problem. Here’s the solution: Software that allows you to view your hard disk as if you were X-raying it. These programs take a close look at your hard drive–or whatever disk you want it to, from a USB drive to a CD-ROM–and present it as a graphic, broken down into little coloured blocks that represent the files and folders that make up your data. The size of the blocks depends on the size of the files and folders they represent, and their colour depends on whether they are photos, music files, documents or whatever. Your hard drive will look like mosaic, with the various files and folders all separately adding little rectangular bits to make up the whole picture. Such programs, for want of a better term, are called disk-visualization tools

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com  (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

This week’s column – Flash Drives Aren’t Flash

This week’s Loose Wire column is about Flash drives:

 I LEFT YOU last week in the capable hands of Ethel Girdle, the fictitious octogenarian who took her accusations of built-in obsolescence to the technology giants. One of her beefs was about so-called flash drives–small devices that store data, for example as memory cards for MP3 players, digital cameras or personal-digital assistants, or as ultra-portable drives which can plug directly into your computer’s USB port. These little things have taken off in a big way. Nowadays it’s hard to find a gadget that doesn’t use them–even your cellphone uses the same technology–or a keychain that doesn’t have a thumb drive dangling off it. But Ethel (OK, it’s really me) found that two out of five memory cards in my possession have given up the ghost within a year or so of buying them. So what gives? Are flash drives the future or, if you’ll excuse the phrase, just a flash in the pan?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

The Smallest Hard Drive In The World

Small is beautiful.

The Guinness World Records has certified Toshiba’s 0.85-inch hard disk drive as the smallest HDD in the world (it’s not actually out yet; expect to see it in September).

Toshiba say it’s the first hard disk drive “to deliver multi-gigabyte data storage in a sub-one-inch form factor”. (The 0.85-inch measurement refers to the diameter of the magnetic disk.) It comes in capacities of 2 to 4 gigabytes and will probably end up in mobile phones, digital camcorders and portable storage devices.

The Guinness folks offer some historical perspective: The first hard drive came out in 1956, and needed 50 two-foot disks to store 4.4 MB.

Of course, with hard drives the size of your thumb, this is going to have a very interesting impact on PDAs, cellphones, laptops and MP3 players. My tupennce worth: Marry these very small drives with thin displays and what else do people need?

Say Hi To The 400GB Hard Drive

Are we far away from terrabyte hard drives?

Hitachi said today they have “the world’s highest capacity 3.5-inch ATA hard drive, the 400GB Deskstar 7K400”. The new drive has been designed for audio video The Deskstar 7K400 provides enough capacity to store the following:

  • 400 hours of standard TV programming
  • 45 hours of HDTV programming
  • More than 6,500 hours of high quality digital music

That’s quite a lot of data. Although I have to say that despite having plenty of hard drives around the place, I’m still out of space. When is 400 GB going to sound like not very much, if it doesn’t already?

I guess sometimes I feel like this: The bigger hard drives get, the more we put on them. If you start putting video on a hard drive, it’s not going to be long before it fills up. Make a big hard drive, we’ll want to put all our DVDs on them. Then we make a bigger hard drive, we’ll want to put our whole life on them. Sadly, we’re never going to get to the point where we think ‘no worries, we’ve got more than enough space here.’ That, I fear, is never going to happen.

News: Tiny Drives Get Bigger

 Hitachi today is now shipping one-inch diameter drives storing 4 gigabytes with a a data transfer rate that is 70 percent faster than the previous-generation Microdrive. Hitachi reckons it’s the “world’s smallest hard disk drive“, weighing just over a half an ounce and equivalent in size to a matchbook.

Hitachi will continue to offer its current 1GB Microdrive to customers throughout the world and is planning to introduce a 2GB version of the Microdrive later this year. The company expects the new 4GB Microdrive 3K4 to be available on retail shelves in major markets this November for about $500.

News: Lawsuits over Hard Drive Size

 Something I’ve often wondered about: why is a 20 gigabyte hard-drive actually only 18.6 GB? Some folk in LA are not only wondering, they’re suing. The Register reports that US PC users have banded together to protest against “deceptive advertising” of hard drive capacity by filling a lawsuit against the world’s biggest computer manufacturers. The lawsuit objects to the notation used in describing the capacity of hard disk drives in manufacturers’ promotional material. For example, a “20 GB” hard drive would only have 18.6 GB usable capacity, the complaint maintains.