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Ask A Geek Girl Serves Up Some Hard Drives

Ask a Geek Girl: Hard Drive Woes

Since we've started the Ask a Geek Girl Group, we've gotten some pretty awesome questions, as well as some really insightful answers from you readers. Great job! Doesn't it feel great to help others? This question, posted by TeamSugar user amers230 about external hard drives is something we all may face at some point.

"A few weeks ago, I finally took my laptop into the Geeksquad to have them fix a few things. While I was there I mentioned it had been running really slowly for a while. I found out I had less than a gig of memory left on my hard drive. The guy told me to get an external hard drive and put all of my stuff on it. Do you have any recommendations on type/brand of an external hard drive? I'd like to upgrade my iPod, so I'm thinking I shouldn't get one with less than 120 gigs of memory, but I'm also a poor recent college graduate who can't afford to spend more than $100 (but spending less would be preferable if possible.) Any good tips on how to actually move my music to the hard drive?"

To see my response,


It's definitely a good move to get an external hard drive, whether you have one or 50 gigs of hard drive space left on your laptop. Traveling around with your lappy is dangerous if your documents and files aren't backed up somewhere, and if you lose it, you are out of luck. Thankfully, external hard drives are pretty inexpensive for the amount of space that you can get . . . you just have to find the right one. I would recommend the Western Digital My Book 160G external hard drive or the eGo by Iomega since they are both small, quiet, and you'll have lots of space for not only your music, but for the rest of your important documents that should be backed up as well.

Additionally, since you mentioned your computer was running slow, have you considered checking your RAM? If your computer's hard drive is a freeway, the RAM is its lanes. The more RAM you have, the more lanes are open to get your data to you quicker. You can get more RAM on the cheap as well. I like shopping at Newegg, since they have fast shipping and great deals.

And finally, getting your music into your new external hard drive is a breeze. Just open your music folder then drag and drop your files into the external, or "Move to" and select your external hard drive.

Be sure to sign up and post your questions to the Ask a Geek Girl group!


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amers230 amers230 9 years
oh wow i'm famous!!! thanks for posting geeksugar, and thanks for the advice everyone!!! I ended up buying a 160 gig Free Agent external hard drive over the weekend (I went with that one because my sister has had one for awhile without any problems and because it was fairly cheap) and have successfully moved all of my music onto it (although it wasn't as easy as I thought lol.) I've already noticed a marked improvement in my laptop's speed, which is awesome too. Ducksoup you had the right idea, I pretty much only wanted it for more storage, not necessarily backup. I'm hoping to switch to a MacBook within a year or so, so I didn't want to put a whole lot of money into this venture. I have thought about upgrading my RAM, geeksugar, but I don't think I'm going to for the same reason. Lorus, I get what you're saying but I really don't need it for back up right now (I guess I should have been clearer lol, when it comes to tech stuff I really have no idea what I'm talking about). I have all of my documents already backed up to a flash drive (and now an external hard drive) and I am now a pro at getting music off of my ipod and back onto my computer so I think I'm good for awhile. I'll definitely take your recommendations into consideration if/when I'm able to upgrade. I really just needed a cheap, quick fix for my problem. Thanks again guys, you rock!!!
lorus1 lorus1 9 years
macgirl: I've lost a bunch of DVDs too. Fortunately I had burned them twice in the event that one of the pairs went bad, which happened of course. Dukesup: You've misunderstood me. I was suggesting we heal the vernacular that overflowing to an external drive is a backup. It's just not. Adding to the total available storage space is one thing, and the request and replies to the article suggested that people were making it synonymous with backing up. Only 1:1 duplication is a backup. My "3 extra drives along with laptop's drive" idea is for pairing. It's an even number (4), assuring that every single bit of data has a backup. I felt that the woman with the laptop could benefit even more from her spirit of "let's manage my data", and so I wrote of a more long-term solution. I'm presenting an opportunity, not paranoia. She, along with other readers, can benefit by taking note of another opportunity for making things even better, and enjoy the freedom to do so at a LATER date. It doesn't have to all be done right away. LOL! Sure, 500GB may be overkill and she's free to scale down the length of her vision of the future, but it's an expensive approach to put less up front now, and have an inner dialog of, "I'll just buy another one when the time comes." I've made this mistake many times by following a sell-to-buy process of 80GB drives, 120GB drives, 250GB drives, and 500GB drives. I've spent a fortune upgrading and upgrading drives when I should have just taken the cheaper path and plunged for a 500GB drive up front. When it comes to managing data, a short-term view adds to the cost of keeping data. If she has a 60GB laptop, then cool, get a 60GB external if a backup is in mind. But for overflow, a larger vision saves money. Behaviorally, if she was able to fill up the first 60GB in a short period of time, it won't take long for the second. Culturally, media is shifting from TV stations, Netflixes and ripping CDs to downloads, which will exponentiate her need for storage. On top of that, megapixels are going up in cameras, and images are taking up more room etc. Then there's the purchase burden. It's cheaper in the long run to buy a BIG drive that already contains the price of shipping, distribution and retail profit, vs. having to buy drives multiple times as one tries to keep up with storage consumption. With hard drives it's cheaper to overshoot your predictions, especially when the price difference between 60GB and 500GB is $70. One shouldn't look at the price of a drive, but the price per Gigabyte. The price per Gigabyte on a 60GB drive is MUCH higher than that of a 500GB drive. That's where your money really goes. I hope you can see that my suggestions have little to do with OCD, and more about financial savings, safety and thoughtfulness. I mean well! Sugarpeeps deserve the best! :)
macgirl macgirl 9 years
You are absolutely correct Lorus, you need two complete copies of all data to really be backed up. That was my bad. The nice thing about the MCE tech setup is you get that little drive enclosure and hard drives are pretty cheap. I do however use a Lacie 320GB for my backup. They too are my favorite, even though I have seen them fail. As long as you have those two complete (up to date) copies the chances of both hard drives failing at the same time are pretty slim. I have never however used a CD or DVD as a backup device as disks go bad, drives change, things just happen. I have a client that has about 200 CD's that can't be read by anything but one super old machine running OS 9. They are in the process of moving that data off ASAP.
DukesUp DukesUp 9 years
The idea of spending over $300 on three hard drives for triple back up seems totally OCD, Lorus. amers clearly states that she was told by a Best Buy employee to get an additional hard drive. Granted, "Geeksquad Geeks" are not the most reputable, but seriously, three hard drives? I think she wants the computer to run faster, so she should be putting her music library onto her external drive, along with any movies and video to make some room. Also, amers never mentions what kind of space shes running right now - could be a 60 gig hard drive on her laptop, in which case 120 external is fine for backing up & storing overflow. I have only one external for my laptop, which is totally enough for one person, unless you are completely paranoid about backing up your backup with a backup...
verily verily 9 years
Great question! I'm shopping around for a new external drive too. I saw a 750GB for $160 and am probably going to drop the cash for that one. My 5 yo Maxtor drive is still going strong, but now it's too teeny for my needs. 80GB may have been fine 5 years ago, but my iTunes Library is probably exceeding that now. I personally will avoid LaCie. In my line of work, I see them fail a lot. Then again, it is the one drive my company seems to recommend to everyone, so I've got a biased view. I like WD so I"ll probably just stick with them.
lorus1 lorus1 9 years
Backup is synonymous with Duplicate. 2x the same data. nextjen: I hope you get to wanting a backup soon. :) Especially if any of that media was downloaded. ninaluna: that's not how it works. If one partition is a clone, then it is a backup. Why would you copy files again to the second partition, leading to 3 copies? Or did you really mean to say, "partition for NEW/won't fit on laptop, stuff." If that's the case, then where's the backup of the NEW stuff? macgirl: where's the backup of the NEW data that's on the upgraded laptop drive but won't fit on the smaller external old-laptop drive? No. Pair drives up so that you're in a position to not add any new content to one drive that can't be duplicated to another. Backups mean 2 copies, always, not spilling over to a new cup once the last cup is full. That's called expansion, not backing up. Backing up data doesn't mean adding a hard drive to store NEW stuff. It means having 2 copies of your existing data. That's it. Never add a bigger drive unless you plan on pairing it up with another bigger drive. You shouldn't buy an external hard drive and fill it up with new stuff, and then have that be your only original copy. Moving data around two drives is NOT backing up. It's just moving stuff around. And when you move stuff around from a small internal drive to a big external drive, you're actually INCREASING your chance of data loss (opposite of the spirit of backing up). Hard drives die, and when an 500GB drive dies, vs. the internal smaller laptop drive, you end up losing much more information than if you had just stuck with the unexpanded laptop. Backing up means 2 copies. Not one copy of old stuff plus new stuff. 2 exact duplicates. If hkmarks kept the original data on hard drives and DVDs that were copied to the external drive, then that's a real backup = 2 copies. If not, then it's just moving stuff around for convenience and doesn't add any safety. Never add an external drive to store new stuff unless you plan to buy a second external drive to be the backup of that one. External hard drives are not like archiving data to DVD/CD. Copying stuff to a DVD and then deleting the original from the hard drive is not making a backup, it's making a movement. Data is just moving around, while retaining its "I have but one copy" high-risk status. A backup is always 2 copies, and so the original copy would have to remain on the hard drive despite being burned to disc to call it an act of backup. You can archive to an external hard drive like you would a DVD, but when you lose a DVD, you lose 4-8GB of data. When you lose a hard drive, you loose hundreds of times that, so you can't let yourself feel as comfortable and trusting. All those picture DVDs/CDs you've made where you deleted the originals off your computer? Make duplicates as soon as possible. Do the same with your hard drive data by always having pairs of them. You should never have an uneven number of hard drives in your employ, or you're asking for tears from loss. I've had two MyBooks die in the past couple years, but since I always buy drives in pairs, I loss nothing because I had a second drive for each one acting as the duplicate/backup. LaCie drives on the other hand, I've never had one of those die. They're my favorite. :) .
nextjen nextjen 9 years
We have the Western Digital 500 GB MyBooks. We keep all of our music and TV shows and movies on the MyBook, and we save very little information on the laptop itself. If we wanted a backup, we would simply need one more MyBook to backup all the important stuff from the external drives. It's easy to use (just plug it in to your USB drive) and it's practically portable. Obviously I wouldn't lug it around everywhere, but if you did, it seems almost sturdy.
ninaluna ninaluna 9 years
Am I right in saying that if you buy a external HD that's twice the size of your HD, you could partition the drive, using one half for back up and the other as a clone? If you're using Mac I've found SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner really good.
macgirl macgirl 9 years
If you have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro I would recommend upgrading the hard drive. MCE Tech sells a kit that comes with the drive, external drive case and transfer software. Then once you swap to a bigger drive you can use your old drive as a backup drive. Get the 7200 RPM one if you really want to see a speed jump. I've had a lot of computers and by far the biggest performance booster was going to a faster drive speed.
hkmarks hkmarks 9 years
I recently bought a Trekstor 500GB external HD for $100. It was on sale and I haven't seen them that cheap since, but I've seen a bunch around $120-140. It's easy to use (just plug it in, turn it on, wait for it to spin up) and works with Windows, Linux, and Mac. I backed up everything on my laptop, and desktop, AND old backup DVD-Rs that were lying around, and had room to spare. 320GB is the minimum size I'd buy these days. If you have a wireless router, you can also consider a NAS (network attached storage) which is like an external hard drive, but you can access it wirelessly. They're much more expensive, though.
ikimashokie ikimashokie 9 years
When I worked dorm tech support, I'd recommend to all of the girlies that they get an external hdd that was at least twice the size of their current hdd to allow for complete backing up + extra storage.
Namtaro Namtaro 9 years
Another option for a hard drive is Seagate. Iomega and Western Digital are good too, but I have not used those brand's hard drives (I have used Iomega's CD-R/RW burner and it was very good).
lorus1 lorus1 9 years
" If your computer's hard drive is a freeway, the RAM is its lanes. The more RAM you have, the more lanes are open to get your data to you quicker." Not exactly. Memory is a boat to hold the information about what you're doing in the moment. The larger the boat, the more you can hold at any given time. When you run out of boat space, you have to make a call to the boat delivery company (hard drive), and wait for more boats to arrive. That's really slow. It's best to have a big enough boat (RAM) to hold everything at once without making external calls for other boats (ie: use the hard drive for virtual memory). The speed of chip RAM is much faster than a hard drive, so the speed boost from RAM comes from avoiding the hard drive as a temporary storage spot. A hard drive is a bicycle compared to chip RAM which is a spaceship traveling at the speed of light. RAM depends on electrons at the speed of light, whereas a hard drive depends on the RPM of its platters and the movement speed of its read head on a mechanical arm (think of a vinyl record player).
dreamsinrainbow dreamsinrainbow 9 years
I have a Western Digital MyBook and Passport. I use the MyBook at home for backing some stuff up and storing extra stuff I don't need to cart around. And then I have all the files that I need to access from various places home/work/school on the Passport. The great thing about the passport is that you don't need an external powersource it's just plug it in and go.
lorus1 lorus1 9 years
"And finally, getting your music into your new external hard drive is a breeze. Just open your music folder then drag and drop your files into the external, or "Move to" and select your external hard drive." That's not correct. If she's using an iPod, then she's using iTunes, and migrating the iTunes library to an external drive without telling iTunes from its Advanced Preferences pane (or launching iTunes while holding down the shift key on windows, option on Mac) will cause her library to display without it being connected to anything. It's very confusing, misleading, and unnecessary havoc. The right way to migrate an iTunes library is to first COPY (not move) the iTunes folder to the external drive, launching iTunes, go to prefs, choose advanced, and change the library location pointer. Then, you can delete the music from the laptop and iTunes will have already been properly configured to point to the external drive for the next time it launches.
lorus1 lorus1 9 years
WAIT A MINUTE. You can't say "get an external hard drive" to solve a space solution, and call that backing up. That's not creating a backup, that's adding another hard drive to take on the overflow. Sure, you can backup the laptop to it, but that doesn't give more space. You'd still be tempted to use the external as a storage device to hold one copy of new files. If your laptop drive is running out of space, then sure, migrate some data to an external drive. Call it "Archive" or "Overflow" or something. But, you then have to get a SECOND hard drive big enough to be the copy/backup of both the laptop's internal drive and your new external. But if you want to have a backup of your laptop and the external overflow/archival drive, then you'll have to purchase 3 external drives. Here's why: If the laptop hard drive is 120GB you want to have a backup of the laptop on a same sized drive. That's 1. If you add an external archive drive for overflow of the laptop, that's 2. If you want to back up the overflow drive, that's 3. In the end you'd have this: -Laptop with internal 120GB drive -External 120GB drive (to backup the laptop) ($80) -External 500GB drive (for overflow/archival) ($120) -External 500GB drive (to backup the overflow/archival drive) ($120) Then you'd use the backup software that comes with the external drive that will CLONE your source drive to its backup and not just copy user files. That way, the moment one of the drives die, internal or external, you remain empowered and without data loss. If the internal died, you'd plug in the backup and boot from that. If the archive died, you'd just switch to the second archive drive. Since you're low on money, you can save on getting a second and third 120GB hard drive for the overflow/archive storage and spend $160 on the archive drives instead of $240, but for that extra $80 you'd have 500GB instead of 120GB at your disposal. I'd save up and do it right the first time. Using this approach, I haven't lost anything in more than a decade.
warau warau 9 years
Great tips. I am on the lookout for a cheap external hard drive (college student over here!). I'll be checking out eBay :P
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