Windows XP / Beginners

Adding storage devices

You can add several types of storage devices to your computer: hard drives, CD, and DVD drives, USB flash memory drives (or Memory Sticks, if you use a Sony product), other types of disk drives, memory card readers, and tape drives.

Choosing a second hard drive

All Windows XP computers have a hard drive, but you can add a second one if you need more storage space.

Hard drive capacity is measured in gigabytes, abbreviated GB. One gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes, or 1,000,000,000 bytes.

Once upon a time, removable storage was dominated by Zip disks and other contraptions with adapter kits that let you "plug in" a hard drive by sliding it into a slot in your computer's front panel. Fast USB has nearly made those beasts obsolete, although in a few cases hot swappable hard drives have their place.

Your second hard drive can go inside or outside your computer. Here's a quick guide:

  • If you only need a gigabyte or so, don't get a hard drive. Look at USB flash drives or Memory Sticks (see the "Understanding flash memory and keydrives" section, later in this tutorial). Also consider archiving your little-used data to CD or DVD (see the next section), or setting up a network and just transferring data you don't need very often to a different computer.
  • If you decide to go with a second hard drive, get at least twice as much hard drive space as you think you'll need. If you're shooting and storing a lot of pictures and videos, get four times as much as you think you'll need.
  • Don't overlook external hard drives. For a few dollars more, you can frequently get a drive that plugs into your USB port, runs almost as fast as a "normal" hard drive, requires basically zero effort to install - and it's completely portable. External hard drives have saved my tail more than once when my computer went belly-up and I needed to get at its data.
  • There's always a "sweet spot" for hard drives, a point at which the cost per gigabyte is lowest. (The very largest hard drives always command a premium, and small hard drives don't give the best byte-fer-the-buck.) When comparing hard drives, always compare the cost per gigabyte, and go for the cheapest. Yes, I know the experts will tell you that the rotation speed is important, or rated Mean Time Between Failure rules, or that brand "X" is more reliable than brand "Y." In my experience, none of that really matters.

It's also possible to replace your first hard drive with a larger one, but then you have to reinstall Windows XP, reinstall all of your applications, and transfer your data. (There are ways to transfer the operating system and applications intact, but they require special hardware or software.)

If you go with an internal hard drive, be sure to buy a hard drive with the same type of interface as the disk controller in your computer. For most current Windows computers, that means an EIDE interface.

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