ISSUE 587: Zisman - Jan 23 2001

The high-tech office


Second hard-drive helps clear up user frustration

I have a computer at home that I use for work-related tasks and share with other family members. And with a teenage son, that means that it's being used to store music files.

While raw music files require about 10 MB of space for each minute of music, popular compression schemes such as MP3 squeeze it down to a tenth as much. Nevertheless, my son's music obsession threatened to push me off my own computer. I didn't want to buy another machine just for his use and I didn't want to simply ban Joey or his music.

But there were a few other things I could do:

n Get a CD burner. Rewritable CD drives are the format of choice for anyone needing removable storage. The drives are increasingly affordable and the blank disks, holding 650 - 700 MB of computer data or music, now cost $1 or less each. (They cost about $25 each when I first started looking at the technology.) Still, Joey collects music files faster then he could offload them to CD.

n Partition the hard drive. Partitioning the drive makes it appear to be more than one drive and limits the amount of space available on each. With a 10-GB hard drive, I wanted to keep 4 GB for my own use, give Joey 4 GB to use as he chose and keep the last 2 GB for the inevitable overflow.

Unfortunately, Windows doesn't make partitioning easy. It includes an old-fashioned DOS-style utility Fdisk. If you use it to make any changes at all to the way your hard disk is set up -- blotto! All your data is destroyed.

To the rescue, Powerquest's Partition Magic utility. Now at version 6, this $100 product keeps getting better.

Partition Magic allows you to create, resize or move partitions, keeping the data intact. While not for everybody, if you need it, you really must have it. It's especially useful for people wanting to work with multiple operating systems on the same computer, such as experimenting with Linux while keeping Windows up and running.

The new version has an improved interface and a handy undelete function, while adding password protection to keep little fingers from making changes to your setup.

But while 4 Gb of space was more than enough for me, Joey was continually frustrated. A single computer game, such as SimCity 3000, can require 10 per cent of that space. With a few games and a lot of songs, Joey's space was at a premium.

The ultimate answer was to get a second hard drive. The 10-GB drive was a high-end, added-cost feature when the computer was new a couple of years ago. But since then drive sizes have expanded rapidly while prices have dropped. A new 20-GB drive set me back less than $200.

If you are moderately comfortable with a screwdriver, it's not difficult to install a second hard drive, certainly easier than most Ikea kits. Modern computers automatically recognize drives, so there isn't the fussing with setup programs that earlier generations re-
quired. (Or you can take your computer into any of the hundreds of small local computer stores. They should be able to install a new hard drive for you quickly and affordably.) The new drive is faster then the old, making the computer feel perkier.

I gave Joey the roomy new drive and copied all his data over from his old partition. The second drive got drive letter D:, the same letter that the old partition had used, so there were no problems running his programs. (On some computers, the CD drive letter will shift, requiring reinstallation of some programs.)

And then, back to Partition Magic to merge Joey's old (and now empty) partition with mine, giving me some extra space out of the deal. We're both happy and, with five times as much space as previous, hopefully
it will be a while before he runs out
of room.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan