External Data Storage. Tips

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Security Risks

Trading convenience for security is a fact of life in the computer world. Anytime you make it easier to share your data with anyone, it can easly become available to everyone. External hard drives pose security risks. Portable hard drives and flash drives pose much bigger security risks.
If you're using a desktop external unit, you need to make sure you secure it. You can buy external drives that have degrees of data protection, including encryption. Also make sure your main desktop or laptop unit is password protected against unauthorized entry. Portable drives are much more of a potential problem. You can buy secure portable drives, with password-protected or even biometrically protected partitions. This can be key if you're carrying anything you wouldn't want the world to see if you happened to lose your flash drive. Remember, they are pretty small.


DS with Hard Drive Doubles as Media Center

The Sony PSP isn't the only gaming portable that can double as a music and movie player. There is a 4GB hard drive available for the Ninetendo DS as well. The hard drive plugs into the GBA slot and the Max Media software into the game slot. It includes a conversion application that converts movies to a format your Nintendo DS can understand. It also resizes your digital photos so they fit on the Nintendo DS screen. And it plays MP3s as well.

It's not exactly an iPod killer. You should be buying a Nintendo DS as a game player first and a portable media center second. But for anyone who's going to buy the Nintendo DS strictly for gaming, these are some nice added features.


NAS: Share Your Data

An external hard drive works as long as you only need to attach it to one computer. Portable hard drives and flash drives are great for moving information around from person-to-person. But what about if you want to share your data with a group of people, like in your business or even your family?

The answer is NAS (network-attached storage), otherwise known as a file server. Using standard client-server protocols, it's not too difficult to designate one PC on your office or home network as a file server. This way, you can dedicate all of the computer's hard drive capacity -- and peripherals, too -- to serving the storage needs of the entire group.

You need to know something about networking to get this done right, especially if there are going to be different levels of access for different users. But it's not too technical for even advanced home users to try out. And if you've got a group of power users collaborating on shared information and files, this is the way to go. You can use any PC or Mac as a server. Both usually have the software built into their operating systems.


Pay for Premium XBox Bundle

If you're shopping for an XBox 360, make sure you pay extra for the premium bundle, rather than the core set-up. Why?

The premium XBox set-up includes a detachable 20GB hard drive. The core set-up has no hard drive, forcing XBoxers to buy memory cards to add and remove content from the box. Currently, the premium XBox bundle retails for around $399, $100 more than the core XBox bundle and it includes a wireless game controller. The hard drive would cost approximately $100 if bought separately.


Be Patient -- New Systems Delayed

Waiting for next-generation video game consoles with massive storage and next-generation DVD player-recorders? You may end up waiting for a while. Sony announced recently that its long-awaited PS3 will include a 60GB hard drive and Blu-Ray DVD format (offering 5x more capacity than current DVDs). But it's not coming until November 2006. The Nintendo Revolution, which is set to abandon hard drive technology in favor of 512MB of flash memory, may now be delayed until 2007.


Round-Up of Today's Options

Here's a quick round-up of all the types of available external storage:

External hard drive: An external hard drive or a Firewire hard drive is going to give you the most capacity -- up to 500GB from a single server, more from bundled servers. And topping out at about $500, the price isn't unreasonable. Think about this: Do you have the USB or Firewire space? It's not going to be very portable or able to take much of a meeting. Also, do you want anyone else to have access to your data?

External removeable media: You can easily hook up a recordable CD or DVD writer to your PC. In theory, this gives you capacity that's limited only to the amount of media you want to buy. Think about this: How much information do you want to store on removeable media? Digital formats are becoming much more convenient and less expensive.

Easily portable storage: USB Flash drives are useful and suprisingly inexpensive. Minidiscs have a cult following, especially among field recorders. Memory cards make transfering from peripherals to your main PC very easy. Think about this: All of these are convenient, but they top out at 8GB right now. So they can be part of the solution, but not all of it. Portable hard drives are just starting to appear on the scene in this category.

Network storage: If you're working on a home or office network, you can set up a file sever and access it through the network in what's called network-attached storage (NAS). You can dedicated an entire machine to file server work and get plenty of space to use. But it can be expensive, compared to the cost of a hard drive. Think about this: Do you want (or need) to share your data?

Bottom line: The easiest option for ongoing storage is still a hard drive. For portables, there are lots of choices.


Shopping for External Storage

Shopping for a new external storage device is easy. There isn't much difference between the brand names. So unless you're partial to Seagate over Hitachi, for example, pay attention to the details of what you need and then search online for the best price. In terms of comparison shopping and research, there are plenty of great sites on the Web. Type "external hard drive review" into your favorite search engine and you'll find more than enough. Then, when you think you know the model you're looking for, shop at your favorite online computer store or just type the model name and number into the search engine and see what sellers come up.


Watch the iPod

Your iPod stores thousands of MP3s. And if you have a newer model, you might have photos and videos on there, too. And all of the information is stored on a portable hard drive (unless you are using a Flash-based iPod Shuffle).
So with 30 million iPods sold in 2005 alone, what do you think would happen if iPods were able to store any information dragged and dropped over from a PC or Laptop? You can bet that Steve Jobs and company have been thinking along those lines. The more useful they can make the iPOd, the more its going to burrow itself even further into the American lifestyle, becoming the top portable hard drive for digital storage of anything (like entire films, or books, or your personal medical data, or just about anything).
Bottom line: The iPod is so ubiquitous and has so many possibilities that it could end up being the premier portable, hard-drive based storage unit of the 21st century.


Flash Drives: Ultimate in Portability

One of the hottest innovations of the past few years in the USB flash drive, also known as a jump drive or a thumb drive (because most of the flash drives are about the size of your thumb). Flash drives are USB-enabled portable storage drives, which can be used to easily transfer information between computers. Flash drives have proven particularly useful for students, people who share computers, and those who bring work home to complete on their personal computers. But jump drives are also useful for traveling MP3 storage, photo albums and more. Flash drives comes in configurations from 64MB to 2GB and cost from about $15 to over $100 for high-storage options.
Bottom line: A USB flash drive isn't going to be your permanent solution for expanding data storage, but it can be very convenient.


RAID Overkill for Most Home Users

A RAID array is the ultimate in external hard drives and unlimited digital storage. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. The idea here is to use multiple external hard drives together to increase capacity, performance and redundancy. A proper RAID set-up will allow mirrored disks to work together to serve busy Web sites, sharing the information flow equally. Then if one disk has a problem, the others take over. Users won't even know the difference. RAID used to be an expensive option, suitable only for large-scale business or educational uses. But today you can purchase a RAID array for your home PC, allowing anyone to boost the capacity of their PC to more than a Terabyte (1000 GB) of storage. Who needs all this capacity? Anyone who absolutely needs to have mission-critical redundant storage available for high client use. Busy commercial web sites are starting to use RAID arrays to make sure they can always serve the public, no matter how great the need. But for most home users, this is really overkill.

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