Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

New Hardware In An Old Machine

Reader Asks About The New SATA Hard Drives

Q: Paul, I enjoy reading your articles. I have a question I hope you will clear up for me. A few years ago I had a computer assembled for me, and I have pretty much filled up its hard drive so I am shopping for a new one to add as a second drive. I read (not on your site) about the new SATA drives and how fast they are. I am wondering if the new versions will work in my computer and any advice you have for installing it. I took your advice and looked inside, and I have a Asus A7N8 motherboard. Thanx.

A: Dear Reader,a7n8
The quite new hard drive technology – called SATA III – is indeed quite fast, with a transfer rate of 6 Gbps.
And, yes, indeed your ASUS motherboard has SATA ports.
And, yes, adding a second hard drive is an easy and relatively inexpensive “upgrade” which will give you more storage room.

But (why, in life, does there always seem to be a “but”?) there are a couple of factors to consider. One, by “a few years” you really mean several years and you must remember Moore’s Law and that tech doesn’t age like you and I — your motherboard is several “generations” old (in reality a Great grandpa, or even a Great-great grandpa). It can only transfer (read and write) at the original SATA speed of 150 MBps.

Due to “backwards compatibility” you can install a SATA II, or even a SATA III drive, which will – indeed – give you more room for music/movies/games etc., but you will not gain any performance benefits (they will transfer at 150 MBps) unless you also upgrade your transfer path (aka your “port”) which is typically done by adding an “expansion card”.
(The method is the same as I describe here: Add Firewire 800 To Your PC– Fast Video Transfer).

I looked it up, and it seems that ASUS will be shipping the first such card any day now, and it will retail for around $30 (see Asus’ Awesome USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps Card Now Shipping), and as a side benefit, the card has the new USB 3.0 ports as well.

So as I see it, it boils down to three options:
* Don’t worry about the “speed” and simply install an affordable second drive.
* Install a card and a SATA III drive.
* Think about a new PC… though, I know of no manufacturers shipping units with the new SATA III technology yet (Computer hardware technology really has come a long way since single-core CPU’s and 400 MHz DDR RAM).

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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January 21, 2010 Posted by | computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is That A Terabyte In Your Pocket (PC)?

hard-drive From C/Net: “The storage-capacity gap between laptop and desktop hard drives just shrank significantly. Western Digital announced Monday two laptop drives that offer “extreme” amounts of storage– the Scorpio Blue 1TB and the Scorpio Blue 750 GB.

Prior to this announcement, the largest laptop hard drive available was 500 GB.”

(To read more about this development, and see the spec’s, please click here.)

I have mentioned Moore’s Law to my readers on several occasions, and this is another example. A terabyte in a laptop? Wow. But then, the same size drive that used to hold 4.3 GB’s now holds two terabytes..

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction (always a stupid thing to do!): that we’ve reached the end-of-life-cycle for these mechanical drives — with their motors and read/write arms — and that flash memory “solid state” drives will be the future standard.

… few more days of ‘vacation mode’ left…

Today’s free link: Free Lifetime License for SUPERAntiSpyware Professional – 20 to Give Away

[addenda: For those of you how might care about such a thing, Western Digital is my preferred brand for hard-drives (HDD’s) .]

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 27, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, hardware, News, PC, tech | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thumb drives: did you get less than you paid for?

I received in my e-mail a question from a very upset reader yesterday. The reader wanted to let me know about a company that makes thumb drives (and other products, too) and told me I should warn you folks about how that company had ripped them off.

Now, I want you to rest assured, Dear Reader, and take joy and comfort in, that if and when I run across “bad things” in the world of tech– I let you know about them. (I think we can all agree that a rip-off qualifies as a “bad thing”.)

The writer named names and pointed fingers unabashedly.. and I suspect, had to go back and clean up their language before hitting Send. They were.. um.. passionate in their outrage.
What had caught my eye, however, was the perpertrating  company’s name — it was a (brand) name I think highly of; and frankly, so does rest of the industry.

What had our e-mail writer so irked? The company had ripped them off over a Gigabyte. They had paid for 16 GB’s, and actually gotten just under 15. (14.9, to be exact.)
They felt short-changed, flim-flammed, and lied to… and as I may have mentioned, they did not like the feeling.
My letter writer’s angst was natural, but misplaced.

When is a Gigabyte not a Gigabyte?
* Ever since the neolithic era of personal computers, way, way, way, back in the Early Days (circa 1984), when dinosaurs still roamed, and “kilo” was king (I’m talking before “mega”, and well before “giga”) the men who produced hard drives (aka “storage devices”) described the size of their products using numbers other humans could understand. That is: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. of the good-old “Base 10” system [ten fingers and ten toes=20].
So to those guys, a “Giga” is 1,000,000,000… just like it is to you and me.
* Computers, in their relentless and perverse desire to frustrate, confuse, and generally annoy humans, decided not to speak in Base 10. Computers invented their own numbering system and named it “binary”.
In this sick, twisted, and baffling numbering system, a one is still “1” (to sucker us, no doubt), but two is “10”. And “3” (to us) is “11” (to them). Want a real kick in the head? Four is “100”. And if you expect 5 to be “1,000”, you’re wrong– it’s 101.
A “Gigabyte” to a computer is 1,073,741,824 bytes.

Let’s see if I have done a good job and you’ve followed along: to the guy who is making the storage device, if he makes it big enough to hold 1,000,000,000 bytes of information, he calls it a “Gigabyte storage device” (always has and always will).
When you plug it into your computer, your machine will see 73,741,824 bytes less than what it thinks of as a Gigabyte, and it tells you that you you have “.93 GB’s of available space”.
In the case of my writer, we multiply the difference by 16… which equals 14.9 GB’s of available space.

Let me be clear, the manufacturer did indeed provide a storage device that can hold 16,000,000,000 bytes of data– 16 GB’s. And machines “see” that as 14.9 GB’s. So they’re both right.. and my writer wasn’t a victim of a scam, flim-flam, nor fraud.
It’s just Base 10 vs. Base 2.

Yes. I understand.
And despite that, I actually like computers!

[For those of you who would like more of a description of “Gigabyte” than my attempt, click here; and for more on binary, here.]

Today’s free link: FreeRip 3, a C/Net Editor’s 5-star CD application. Description: FreeRip is an easy to use application that can record digital audio tracks directly from compact discs to PC files. You can save CD audio tracks to CD-quality WAV files or encode them to OGG Vorbis, WMA, MP3 or Flac compressed audio formats. It can also convert/encode audio files from WMA/WAV/MP3/Vorbis/FLAC. FreeRip also lets you adjust track volume and it supports ID3 tagging and CD-Text. Includes MP3 ID3 Tagger.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 16, 2008 Posted by | computers, file system, hardware, PC, storage, tech, thumb drives, USB storage devices | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Replacing your hard drive

Hard drives die, and that’s a fact. In fact, it happened to me just the other day.
The HD that died was a very old and very hard-worked unit that came in a Dell Pentium-III (circa 1999) workstation, and I was not terribly surprised by its demise (actually, when you think about how hard-drives operate, it is more surprising that it lasted as long as it did.).

There is no real way to predict when a hard-drive will fail; and there’s no real “rule of thumb” that says, “replace your hard-drive every 10,000 miles.” Basically, you just run it until the wheels fall off, and then replace it. There is an option available on some motherboards (enabled in your BIOS) called S.M.A.R.T., which monitors your hard-drive’s activity and attempts to warn you when certain parameters may be indications of looming failure.. but this has had a dubious history. If you have S.M.A.R.T. enabled, and it warns you of such a thing, it’s certainly time to make a system backup.. but you may get two days, or two years (or longer) more service.

When my drive failed, my replacement steps were greatly aided by the fact that I had an “image” (sometimes called a “ghost”, or “ghost image”) backup, which I simply copied to the new drive. I simply cannot iterate enough: do you have a full, system backup? Stored someplace other than on that drive? If not, I will say that this is definitely a situation where an ounce of prevention will save you a ton of pain. To read my article on automatically making system backups, click here.

Tip of the day:Buy the right type of hard drive. Currently, there are two basic “types” of replacement hard-drives. [A brief aside: there is some new hard drive technology that has reached the consumer market — namely “hybrid” drives, and “solid state” drives. These drives use Flash Memory (such as in a thumb drive) to improve performance and/or remove moving parts. While these drives are the wave of the future, they’re quite expensive.. and “new”. When it comes to these drives, I advise “Wait.”] These two types are the older IDE and the more recent SATA. A quick glance inside your computer will tell you which one you have.

The cables will tell: If your PC is more than a few years old, you almost certainly have an IDE/ATA drive. These are also called “EIDE”, “ATA”, and “DMA” and sometimes have the word “Ultra” attached.. as in “UltraATA”.
Newer computers use “serial” ATA, or “SATA”. This newer Standard is faster, and uses a skinnier cable.

40pin.jpg   sata.jpg
The older, IDE cables (that run from your motherboard to your drive bays) are typically grey and are wide ‘ribbons’. The newer SATA cables look more like cables than ribbons, and are usually colored — red and blue being popular.

The next step is to “set the jumper” on your new hard-drive. This is a small plastic ‘bridge’ which fits over two contact pins.

The two main choices are “Primary” (often called “Master”) and “Slave”, and unless you have multiple hard-drives on your machine, you will want the Master jumper position.
(Some of the nicer hard-drive manufacturers will have the jumper there already, but it pays to check.) There may be a diagram for jumper positions on the hard-drive itself, or the instruction sheet which came with it. And the manufacturer’s website should list it as well (this comes in handy when the replacing drive is itself older).

Now completely power-down your PC and unplug it. Use an anti-static wristband, or ground yourself by touching the computer’s metal frame before reaching inside (do this each time) your computer– a very small electrostatic discharge can ruin your whole day. Unplug the 4-wire Molex power lead, and the data cable from the back of the deceased hard-drive; and then remove the (typically, 4) screws holding the drive into the drive bay.

Reverse the process to install the new drive. The cables should only ‘clip on’ in one direction, so don’t try to force them onto the drive.. they should slip on to the connectors fairly smoothly.

Now power-up, and boot your PC. Since there is no operating system on the new drive (no Windows to load), you will see an error message, and that’s okay unless it says “disk not found” (read this message carefully!). A “Disk not found” message here means that the PC’s BIOS does not recognize the new hard drive. If this happens, the first thing to do is hit the F2 and enter (system) Setup and make sure the entry for “Hard Disk 0” is set to “Auto”– if it is, power-down and double-check and re-seat your cables and the jumper to ensure everything is correct and then try again.
If it still fails, you may have a defective unit: take it back to the store.

The next step in hard-drive replacement is to load (and update) Windows, your programs, and your files. This is a arduous, all-day process.. unless you have a good backup.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | add device, Backups, BIOS, computers, hardware, how to, PC, shopping for, tech | , , | Leave a comment