Tag Archives: Computer storage media

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.

Eight Gigabytes Of Stuff On One DVD

In the next few weeks, expect to be able to buy DVD discs that can store up 16 hours of video or 8.5 GB of Data. Verbatim said yesterday they would this spring release “the industry’s first Double-Layer DVD+R (DVD+R DL) discs”, nearly doubling the storage capacity on DVD recordable discs (from 4.7GB to 8.5GB) on a single side. Verbatim says these discs will be compatible with existing DVD video players and DVD-ROM drives.

That ’16 hours’ bit needs some clarifying: in fact, you could only store up to 4 hours of DVD-quality video — the 16 hours refers to VHS video quality. The way Verbatim say they do this is to have the first recording layer semi-transparent with enough reflectivity for writing/reading data on the first layer, yet transmitting enough laser power to read/write on the second layer by refocusing the laser.

Verbatim expect content developers (read DVD movies, big software packages) to make use of this technology: You could fit two Hollywood movies on one of these discs, if you really wanted to. Is this the time when I can talk about how I remember how all you could get on a floppy drive was less than one megabyte, but how somehow we were happier then? (No – Ed.)

DVD Burners, Going Even Cheaper

Further to my column last week about how DVD burners may be worth investing in, Slashdotters are debating their rapidly falling prices — in some cases to below $100. The discussion is here; the original article reviewing sub-$100 burners is here.

Having just spent more of my weekend than is healthy backing up my MP3 collection (20+ gigabytes) I have no doubt about their appeal for storing large quantities of data. That collection went onto six DVD discs. If I’d done the same thing to CD-ROM it would have taken, er, a lot more.

News: Information Overload

 In the end this may be more important than anything else in the evolution of technology: information is growing very, very fast. The BBC quotes a study by the University of California, Berkeley that:
  • every year 800MB of information is produced for every person on the planet;
  • information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical disks has doubled since 1999;
  • The amount of information stored in books, journals and other documents has grown 43% in the same period;
  • the amount of information generated has grown about 30%;
  • in 2002 alone about five exabytes (an exabyte, unless I’m much mistaken, is a billion gigabytes) of new information was generated by the world’s print, film, magnetic and optical storage systems.
And yet we still don’t have decent programs for letting us find stuff — words, pictures, sound — on our own computer. Why is that?

News: Is That A USB Drive In Your Pocket Or…?

 I don’t have a link for this, but I’m amazed at how the price of USB thumb drives — those little sticks on a key ring — have fallen in price. Now in my local mall you can pick up one holding 256 megabytes for less than $60.
 
 
Given prices a year ago were not far off $1 per megabyte, and less than six months ago I paid that for a drive with half the capacity, that’s quite a drop. There are hundreds of manufacturers out there making them now, so I wouldn’t recommend any particular one. Don’t entrust the only copy of your data to one, but it’s great as a secondary backup you can carry around with you. They also make great gifts, and one or two people might still be impressed by them during lulls at parties.

News: The Dark Side of Backing Up

 From the We Should Have Known This Dept comes news that CD-ROMs degrade in months, even at room temperature without sunlight. Dutch magazine PC Active tested data disks from 30 manufacturers that were recorded 20 months ago. Several data CDs developed serious errors, or became virtually unreadable, The Register reports.
 
It’s perhaps too early to tell, but the word seems to be: different dye systems used for CD-R disks are the root of the evil and that you’re better off storing your stuff on the more expensive disks. My tuppennies’: Keep backups of your most important data on different media — hard drive, online drive, CD-ROMs, DVD — in several copies.

News: Hard Times For The Hard Drive

 Just when you thought hard drives couldn’t get any bigger…. they don’t. Interesting piece called Midlife crisis for the hard drive by CNET’s Ed Frauenheim says growth in hard drive capacity, after doubling annually during some periods, is beginning to slow “as engineers run into technological obstacles and many PC buyers feel they have more than enough space”.
 
 
Speak for yourself: I have five hard drives now and still seem to be short.

Column: USB and the CIA

Loose Wire — How to Steal CIA Secrets: It’s as easy as USB; Universal Serial Bus drives are getting small enough to hide in coffee mugs, and you can attach them to most computers and all sorts of other gadgets

 
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 5 June 2003 of edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review , (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
I got some flak last time I was rude about how implausible technology is in Hollywood movies, even supposedly authentic fare such as Minority Report, The Bourne Identity and Mary Poppins. One comment was “grab a beer and chill out, dude, it’s only a movie,” though that doesn’t count because it was from my mother.

But I can’t help venting my spleen, if that’s what you do with spleen, after watching The Recruit with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell. It’s a thriller revolving around a recruit (no, really) to the Central Intelligence Agency trying to smuggle a top secret program out of CIA headquarters at Langley. There are some neat gadgets in there, such as biodegradable bugs and a program that hijacks nearby television screens. But the premise is that it’s well nigh impossible to steal data from the CIA since none of its computers have floppy drives, printers or (presumably, if we’re going to get finicky) infrared ports or Bluetooth dongles. In short, how do you transfer data if you can’t download it? I wanted to shout out suggestions but my friends, alerted by previous visits to the cinema, had gagged me beforehand.

Anyway, not a bad idea and not a bad movie. Except (skip the rest of this paragraph if you intend to watch the movie) someone succeeds in downloading the top secret program by plugging a USB drive into a USB socket on a CIA computer (USB is a commonly used port that allows users to connect gadgets to their computer). She then hides the said drive — about the size of a lighter — in her aluminium coffee mug. I mean, duh! I can’t believe they have USB sockets in Langley and that the X-ray machine confuses a gadget for coffee dregs. Tsk.

Anyway, it made me realize that Hollywood really, really needs my help in making their scripts believable. So here are some ideas for future movies, all involving existing USB gadgets:

— Our hero penetrates high-security installation, wanders nonchalantly up to floppy-less computer, and accesses USB port (inexplicably left on computer despite it being responsible for massive security breach as revealed in The Recruit). Uncoils USB cable from watch strap, plugs into USB port, downloads data into USB watch from German company LAKS (between $40 and $95 from www.laks.com).

— Our hero wanders nonchalantly up to floppy-less computer, plugs USB drive into USB port (amazingly still there despite aforementioned movie and pioneering column from tech writer), and accesses own e-mail via newly released PocoMail PE ($40 from www.pocomailpe.com). Okay, this doesn’t sound that wild, but it’s a great plot twist if you’re using someone else’s computer and they don’t have an e-mail program you need, or, in the case of our hero, you don’t want to leave any trace of yourself (say at an Internet cafe or a public library).

— Our hero has made off with the data on a USB drive. But he’s caught by the bad guys. Being avid readers of this column, they know what to look for and quickly locate the USB drive. But our hero’s drive is a bit different: Made by Singapore’s Trek 2000 International (www.thumbdrive.com), his ThumbDrive Touch has a silver pad that requires the user’s thumbprint before data can be accessed. Unfortunately for our hero, but great for a plot twist, the baddies simply cut off his thumb and plonk it on the biometric pad.

— Armed with a $100 MP306 USB drive from Azio Technologies (www. azio-tech.com/azi0-root/products/MP 306.asp), our hero fails to access the CIA computer because his nemesis has installed a SecuriKey Computer Protection System, Personal Edition ($130 from Griffin Technologies at http://securikey.com/personal/). This looks just like a USB drive but in fact works like a key: If it’s not plugged into the computer, then the computer locks up. Confounded, our hero sucks his remaining thumb and admires the silver metal mini-briefcase that the SecuriKey dongle comes in. Resigned, our hero reaches for his Azio USB drive, dons earphones, kicks back and listens to MP3 music files stored on the drive. Fiddling with the built-in equalizer for improved playback quality, he hears footsteps and quickly switches the USB drive to recorder mode to eavesdrop on two CIA officers passing by, griping about their canteen lunch.

Okay, so not all these plots will win prizes. But one thing I’m willing to bet my DVD collection on: USB drives will replace floppy drives, those flat disks of old, as PC manufacturers add USB ports to new models and remove external disk drives. Prices will drop further, meaning gadgets smaller than lighters will carry gigabytes of data for peanuts. Already you can buy a 1 gigabyte model for $300: Expect to pay half that in a year or less. They will be so cheap people will give them away: Visitors to a recent launch in Britain of Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 were given freebie press bags with 32-megabyte USB drives inside.

In future, folk will carry around all their programs and data aboard one dongle and run it from any computer they come across, effectively personalizing the computer for however long they’re sitting at it, but without leaving any trace. Wait for the futuristic movie where everyone’s life is stored on a USB drive and every computer in the world is for public consumption. Interested? Call my agent.

Column: backing up

 Loose Wire — Just To Be on The Safe Side

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 30 May 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how to back up your files in the case of disaster, theft, stupidity or a combination of all three. But as several readers pointed out, nearly all the methods I suggested have flaws: Backing up to another drive is no good if you don’t take the drive with you — assuming your computer is eaten by Godzilla or your mother sells it in a garage sale while you’re at the mall — or if the drive remains connected and gets eaten by the same virus that destroyed your original data.

 
On-line drives, where you upload all your documents to a Web site, are fine but a bit slow, and you can never be 100% certain the on-line-drive company won’t go bust, or that someone won’t hack into your data and learn all your darkest secrets. Backing up to a CD-ROM is cheap, but they have a habit of corrupting data without telling you.
 
When my laptop was stolen a year ago, I was fairly sure I hadn’t lost much data until I found my back-up to CD-ROM was a melange of zeroes and ones. Not my idea of a safe back-up.
 
My answer to all these gripes is: All true, but maybe we’re addressing the wrong problem. Unless you’re a real data dude, chances are your most important data — ignoring all those thousands of company letters, ageing CVs, letters to old flames and what-have-you that are clogging your hard drive — could be limited to about 100 megabytes. (Doesn’t sound like much? Remember that 10 years ago that was a big hard drive for most people.)
 
What I suggest is this: Work out what your most important documents are and save them to one easy-to-remember folder. Weed it out ruthlessly. Don’t worry about contacts and calendars and stuff like that if you have a Palm or Pocket PC, since they’re already duplicated on PC and hand-held devices (and if they aren’t, you should be ashamed of it, at your age). If all this weeded data comes to more than 100 megabytes, you can always compress it into a zip file, which works particularly well with bloated document formats like Microsoft Word. For this try WinZip from www.winzip.com, or the more complete PowerDesk from Ontrack International at www.ontrack.com that I mentioned a few weeks ago.
 
Now for the neat bit. A couple of years ago a Singaporean company called Trek 2000 International (www.thumbdrive.com) started selling mini-drives about the size of your little finger, which they called ThumbDrives (don’t ask; probably they all have small thumbs down there at Loyang Industrial Estate). These sleek little gadgets look like a small lighter and slot into your USB port. After installing some software, depending on what kind of operating system you’re using, you have a new drive.
 
When they first appeared they were pricey but now with competition from elsewhere they’re pretty reasonable: I picked up a 128-megabyte M-Drive from Taiwan’s Star King Technologies for about $80. And Britain’s Targus does a more expensive 64-megabyte model, which retails for $120 and looks more like a magic marker.
 
All models, however, are well designed and fit easily onto a key ring. Which is exactly where I suggest you put it once you’ve backed up all your important data. Now you have a copy of all your most important stuff with you at all times — as long as you don’t lose your keys or get amnesia.
 
There are other options: If you have a gadget that hooks up to your PC, such as a camera, MP3 player, Pocket PC or Palm, chances are you can store data on the flash card that comes with it. Hook the gadget up to your PC and you should be able to read the contents of the flash card as a separate drive. In most cases you can now put anything you like on it.
 
In the future this will be how most of us store all our stuff: M-Drive promise a 2-gigabyte version in the near future, and while it may not be that cheap, knowing that a back-up of everything you hold dear is locked into a little finger in your pocket may be worth the expense.

Column: Panic attack

Loose Wire: Read This, Then Panic

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 9 May 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

 
Ever fire up your computer, only to hear weird whirring noises from your hard drive — or nothing at all? Only to then hear another sound, as your stomach starts churning with dread — a little bit like food poisoning, or being in love, only worse. Suddenly your life starts flashing past, only this time it’s not when your brother or sister threw a box of Lego bricks at you when you were five, but when you last backed up your data to another device, and the horrible vision of what your future would look like without any data in it. It’s happened to all of us, and it’s not as bad as it sounds. Things could be worse.
 
Yeah, right, I have to say that for legal reasons. Of course it couldn’t be worse. Nine out of 10 doofuses (read incompetent computer users) never back up their data. At least that’s my experience: in fact the figure is more like half, according to surveys conducted by Iomega, a storage company. (Sure, they would say that, because they want you to buy their stuff, but I figure that’s evened out by the number of folk who lie in these kind of surveys because they don’t want to look like doofuses.) The sad reality is that we don’t really back up often enough and well enough, so that when a computer crash does come it hits us like a locomotive. So how do you avoid this?
 
Actually, it’s relatively easy. But you have to be disciplined about it. First, separate your data — document files, spreadsheets, pictures of your newborn — from your programs and create a folder on your hard drive called “Documents” or “Data” or whatever, and then subfolders according to what the data is: Letters to Mum; Letters to bank manager; Letters to bank manager’s mum; etc. With me so far?
 
Now you need somewhere to back this stuff up. Here are the options:
 
CD-ROMs: Many PCs and laptops come fitted with CD-ROM drives that allow you to create CDs. With blank CD prices so low this is not a bad choice. The only problems are that you’ll end up having a lot of CD-ROMs sitting around, most of which you’ll have been too lazy to label properly; and also that the CD-burning process is pretty unforgiving — if you use your computer while the CD is being created, chances are the resulting CD will be unusable.
 
On-line drives: If you have a fast Internet connection you can save data at a secure Web site like X Drive (www.xdrive.com) for a reasonable fee. If you are a Mac user, there is free storage with the Apple Web site’s iDisk service (www.apple.com/idisk). This is good if you’re on the move a lot, or are afraid a burglar is going to steal all your back-ups, or you live in an earthquake/forest fire/flooding zone. No point in backing everything up, carefully stashing it in a drawer and then finding your house and drawer have burned down, been horizontally rearranged or moved a few blocks down the canyon.
 
I’d put my money on an external drive: These are hard drives just like the one inside your computer but, you guessed it, they’re outside. With prices tumbling, you can now pick up a 20 gigabyte drive that runs off the USB slot on your computer for $200 or less. About the size of a TV remote, they’re easy to stash, and they’re fast. Iomega have just launched a very sleek-looking range of drives that use USB version 2.0, which should make them even faster.
 
Now all you need is to do the actual back-up. For this I would recommend Second Copy from Centered Systems ($30 from www.centered.com), which is extraordinarily easy to use, or the slightly more complicated Network File Monitor from AAR Software (a Lite version is $20 from www.aarsoftware.com). Work out how often you want your data backed up (no harm in doing it every day if you’re the nervous type) and then let the software run — best when you’re asleep or at the gym, since it always hogs resources. If you’re really nervous, try Iomega’s QuikSync (www.iomega.com), which will monitor the files you’re using and back them up every few minutes: This definitely slows things down, so it’s advisable only for the certifiably paranoid. No, of course I don’t use it myself.
 
Hang on a minute, what was that noise?