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Going For a Drive

Which hard drives are winning the space race? When I first started writing for technology magazines way back in 1994, the biggest hard drive that was commercially available was a whopping 1GB in size. (That sounds small now, unless you consider that, just three years earlier, the largest drive was just 100 Megabytes.) Twelve years later, the size has increased nearly a hundredfold with the release of 400, 500, 750, and even 1,000GB (1,024 would make it a terabyte!) drives.

This month, we’ll take a look at a handful of some of the best drives–internal and external–available for the Windows PC that will give you a near-limitless storage capacity without breaking your budget.

Fishing For Barracuda

At a whopping 750GB, Seagate’s new Barracuda 7200.10 is the company’s fastest internal drive yet and their first 3.5-inch drive built on perpendicular technology. (Perpendicular technology is a method for increasing the drive’s dependability and capacity by storing information vertically rather than horizontally, resulting in an increased data density and more gigabytes per platter.) This drive can hold 13,000 hours of digital music, 190,000 digital photos, 750 hours of digital video, or roughly 400 games. In other words, unless you’re producing Hollywood-quality movies or downloading every MP3 known to man, it should be quite a while before you run out of storage space.

The drive connects via Serial ATA (SATA) and boasts an RPM of 7200, 16MB of cache, 300 Gs of non-operating shock resistance and, at only 25 acoustic decibels, is whisper quiet.

The drive operates with both 3GB and 1.5GB SATA as well as parallel ATA 100 connections and retails for about $600.

Diamond in the Rough

Maxtor’s DiamondMax 11 6H500F0 is comparable in features and speed to Seagate’s Barracuda, but ships with 500GB instead of 750. It also doesn’t use the perpendicular technology. So why would you choose this drive? Simply put: price. At around $320, Maxtor’s drive is about half the price of Seagate’s but with two-thirds the storage. You do the math. Gigabyte for gigabyte, you come out ahead with the DiamondMax–but only if you don’t need that extra 250GB of space.

The DiamondMax uses SATA-300 and, like the Seagate, has a 16MB buffer, and though it seems to copy files slightly slower than the Seagate drive, is comparable to the Barracuda in just about every other respect. Note that Seagate has just completed acquisition of Maxtor as of press time. Can the Seagate-Maxtor Diamond Barracuda 1,000 GB drive be far away?

External Options

External hard drives have one big advantage over their internal cousins: if you run out of storage capacity, you can always add more. Moreover, you can daisy chain them (if using a Firewire connection; USB 2.0 doesn’t support the option,) adding as many as 99 extra drives to the mix. Add to that the fact that they usually come pre-formatted in the Fat32 file system and adding a external drive to your system is a no-brainer.

My favorite external drive thus far has been the 500GB Seagate Pushbutton Backup. If you’re lazy about backing up your PC, the pushbutton backup option makes things a breeze–simply install the included Bounceback Express software, push the backup button on the drive, and before you know it you’ve backed up your hard drive.

All external drives are hot-swappable, meaning that you can connect and disconnect the drives without turning off your computer, and most are connected to your PC via Firewire, USB 2.0, or both. The Seagate drives are also stackable, which means that, if you’re short on space, you can stack them vertically as high as you have room. The external Seagate is similar in stats to the internal Seagate reviewed above, only with 8MB cache instead of sixteen, and without the perpendicular storage technology. Street price is around $380.

Go For the Silver

If you’re willing to pay a lot extra, WiebeTech’s SilverSATA II external drive might be the way to go. This drive holds an astounding 1,000GB of information, and boasts an 80x file copy speed and transfer rates of up to 220Mbps. Connecting via USB 2.0 or external SATA-300 (which is faster than either Firewire 400 or 800) to a bay that can hold as many as five of the drives, it’s also one of the most versatile external drives out there in terms of both interoperability and transportability.

One surprise bonus: When using the dual bay option, the unit has the ability to treat both drives as a single volume. And through a hardware RAID (redundant array of independent disks) the dual bay enclosure can mirror backups, meaning that if one tray goes bad the other is on task to save your data.

So how much does this baby cost? A whopping $1,300! At around $1.30 a Gigabyte, that makes this the most expensive drive in this review. But if you want a lot of storage and need the ability to add additional trays to your external drive bay, as well as need lightning-fast performance and can take advantage of the external SATA-300 schema, it might very well be worth it.

Contributing Editor Joe DeRouen writes Windows Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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